Russian Federation – Postcrossing (2016)

Before I start today’s account of the Russian Federation’s history and the stamp pictured above, I’d like to mention a few things on the personal side. I’ve had a life-long interest in all things Russian. Part of that stems from my own adoptive family’s history as it’s legend that my German ancestors were given land in the region that now constitutes the Ukraine and that one of relatives in the mists of time actually danced with one of the czarinas at some sort of ball. I have no real documentation for that other than what I remember hearing as a child. During part of my lengthy tenure at university, I “dabbled” in Soviet Studies and this led to my coming alarmingly close to marrying a young woman from Voronezh! I am still very much in love with the history, culture , language, and food of the vast area once of Russia and her many former territories.

All of this makes it somewhat surprising surprising that I have so very few Russian stamps in my collection. Much like I do with Germany, I break Russia down into much easier-to-manage eras: the Russian Empire (stamps from 1857 until 1916), post-Imperial/Soviet Union (including the Revolutionary and Civil War period 1917-1923 and USSR until 1991), and those of the Russian Republic / Russian Federation (1992 to date).  I don’t currently have any stamps from the Russian Empire, while many of my stamps from the interim period are from the various republics or armies most of which have already been covered, The USSR stamps will be covered under “Soviet Union.” Every single one of my post-Communist era stamps are on postcards that I’ve received in the mail or on maximum cards such as today’s entry. I really need to build a decent collection of Russia given my background. I suppose the main reason why I haven’t is that it is a very daunting area to me given the vast numbers of stamps released even if one only considers the “main” country.

Present-day Russia (Россия), officially the Russian Federation (Российская Федерация), is the largest country in the world by surface area, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area at 6,592,800 square miles (17,075,200 square kilometers). It lies between latitudes 41° and 82° N, and longitudes 19° E and 169° W. Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans eleven time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both with Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and the U.S. state of Alaska across the Bering Strait.

Russia has a wide natural resource base, including major deposits of timber, petroleum, natural gas, coal, ores and other mineral resources. There are 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Russia, 40 UNESCO biosphere reserves, 41 national parks and 101 nature reserves.

Russia is the ninth most populous nation in the world, with over 144 million people at the end of March 2017. The European western part of the country is much more populated and urbanized than the eastern; about 77% of the population live in European Russia. Russia’s capital Moscow is one of the largest cities in the world; other major urban centers include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Kazan.

The name Russia is derived from Rus, a medieval state populated mostly by the East Slavs. However, this proper name became more prominent in the later history, and the country typically was called by its inhabitants Русская Земля (russkaja zemlja), which can be translated as “Russian Land” or “Land of Rus'”. In order to distinguish this state from other states derived from it, it is denoted as Kievan Rus’ by modern historiography. The name Rus itself comes from the early medieval Rus’ people, Swedish merchants and warriors who relocated from across the Baltic Sea and founded a state centered on Novgorod that later became Kievan Rus.

An old Latin version of the name Rus’ was Ruthenia, mostly applied to the western and southern regions of Rus’ that were adjacent to Catholic Europe. The current name of the country, Россия (Rossija), comes from the Byzantine Greek designation of the Kievan Rus’, Ρωσσία Rossía — spelled Ρωσία (Rosía) in Modern Greek.

The standard way to refer to citizens of Russia is “Russians” in English and rossiyane (россияне) in Russian. There are two Russian words which are commonly translated into English as “Russians”. One is “русские” (russkiye), which most often means “ethnic Russians”. Another is “россияне” (rossiyane), which means “citizens of Russia”, regardless of ethnicity. Translations into other languages often do not distinguish these two groups.

The East Slavs emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the third and eighth centuries AD. Founded and ruled by a Varangian warrior elite and their descendants, the medieval state of Rus arose in the ninth century. In 988, it adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Rus’ ultimately disintegrated into a number of smaller states; most of the Rus’ lands were overrun by the Mongol invasion and became tributaries of the nomadic Golden Horde in the thirteenth century. The Grand Duchy of Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities, achieved independence from the Golden Horde, and came to dominate the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus’.

Russia’s territorial expansion was achieved largely in the late 16th century under the Cossack Yermak Timofeyevich during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, at a time when competing city-states in the western regions of Russia had banded together to form one country. Yermak mustered an army and pushed eastward where he conquered nearly all the lands once belonging to the Mongols, defeating their ruler, Khan Kuchum.

By the eighteenth century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation, and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which was the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland on the west to Alaska on the east.

Following the Russian Revolution, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic became the largest and leading constituent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world’s first constitutionally socialist state. The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II, and emerged as a recognized superpower and rival to the United States during the Cold War. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the twentieth century, including the world’s first human-made satellite and the launching of the first humans in space.

From 1985 onwards, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who sought to enact liberal reforms in the Soviet system, introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to end the period of economic stagnation and to democratize the government. This, however, led to the rise of strong nationalist and separatist movements. By the end of 1990, the Soviet Union had the world’s second largest economy, largest standing military in the world and the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. However, during its last years it was afflicted by shortages of goods in grocery stores, huge budget deficits, and explosive growth in the money supply leading to inflation.

By 1991, economic and political turmoil began to boil over, as the Baltic republics chose to secede from the Soviet Union. On March 17, a referendum was held, in which the vast majority of participating citizens voted in favor of changing the Soviet Union into a renewed federation. In August 1991, a coup d’état attempt by members of Gorbachev’s government, directed against Gorbachev and aimed at preserving the Soviet Union, instead led to the end of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. On December 25, 1991, the USSR was dissolved.

Fifteen independent republics emerged from the USSR: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan. In June 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first directly elected President in Russian history when he was elected President of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, which became the independent Russian Federation in December of that year. According to the Constitution of Russia, the country is a federation and semi-presidential republic, wherein the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The Russian Federation is fundamentally structured as a multi-party representative democracy.

During and after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, wide-ranging reforms including privatization and market and trade liberalization were undertaken, including radical changes along the lines of “shock therapy” as recommended by the United States and the International Monetary Fund. All this resulted in a major economic crisis, characterized by a 50% decline in both GDP and industrial output between 1990 and 1995.

The privatization largely shifted control of enterprises from state agencies to individuals with inside connections in the government. Many of the newly rich moved billions in cash and assets outside of the country in an enormous capital flight. The depression of the economy led to the collapse of social services; the birth rate plummeted while the death rate skyrocketed. Millions plunged into poverty, from a level of 1.5% in the late Soviet era to 39–49% by mid-1993. The 1990s saw extreme corruption and lawlessness, the rise of criminal gangs and violent crime.

The 1990s were plagued by armed conflicts in the North Caucasus, both local ethnic skirmishes and separatist Islamist insurrections. From the time Chechen separatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war has been fought between the rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention.

Russia took up the responsibility for settling the USSR’s external debts, even though its population made up just half of the population of the USSR at the time of its dissolution. High budget deficits caused the 1998 Russian financial crisis and resulted in a further GDP decline.

In 1993, Russian Post became a part of Ministry of Communications. In 1995, the Office was reorganized into the Federal Service of the Russian Federation postal service, and in 1996 it was reorganized into the Department of Post in the Ministry of Communications of the Russian Federation. Russian postal enterprises were operating and commercial independence, but with it the strong competition posed by former partners Telecommunication companies. Thus, despite the separation of industries, a unique postal network, established in prior periods and covering almost all localities in the country, has been preserved.

Given the role of the Russian post in the historical development of the state, in 1994, Russian President Boris Yeltsin established the professional holiday of postal workers — “Day of the Russian Post”, which is celebrated annually on the second July 2. Another presidential decree in 1997 restored the heraldic traditions of Russian Post with the adding of the emblem and flag.

On December 31, 1999, President Yeltsin unexpectedly resigned, handing the post to the recently appointed Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 presidential election. Putin suppressed the Chechen insurgency although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the Northern Caucasus. High oil prices and the initially weak currency followed by increasing domestic demand, consumption, and investments has helped the economy grow for nine straight years, improving the standard of living and increasing Russia’s influence on the world stage. However, since the World economic crisis of 2008 and a subsequent drop in oil prices, Russia’s economy has stagnated and poverty has again started to rise. While many reforms made during the Putin presidency have been generally criticized by Western nations as undemocratic, Putin’s leadership over the return of order, stability, and progress has won him widespread admiration in Russia.

On March 2, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia while Putin became Prime Minister. Putin returned to the presidency following the 2012 presidential elections, and Medvedev was appointed Prime Minister.

In 2014, after President Viktor Yanukovych of Ukraine fled as a result of a revolution, Putin requested and received authorization from the Russian Parliament to deploy Russian troops to Ukraine. Following a Crimean referendum in which separation was favored by a large majority of voters, but not accepted internationally, the Russian leadership announced the accession of Crimea into the Russian Federation. On March 27, the United Nations General Assembly voted in favor of a non-binding resolution opposing the Russian annexation of Crimea by a vote of 100 in favour, 11 against and 58 abstentions.

In September 2015, Russia started military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, consisting of air strikes against militant groups of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in the Levant), and the Army of Conquest.

On March 25, 2016, Russia released a single stamp to mark the popular Postcrossing project. The 31 ruble square self-adhesive stamp (sized 37 x 37 millimeters) was issued in sheets of nine (3×3) with 46,000 sheets (414,000 stamps) placed into circulation. Postcrossing aims to develop communication between people from different countries through postcards. Each user registered on the official website receives a random address to send a card to; in response, he or she receives cards from other users. I registered on Postcrossing.com in June 2006, just shy of the project’s one-year anniversary. There a number of copy-cat sites now as well as numerous Facebook groups dedicated to postcard swapping. Hardly a month goes by that I don’t receive postcards in the mail that are either “official” Postcrossing cards, swaps, or cards sent by friends or family members knowing of my love for the hobby.

 

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