Russia emerged from a decade of post-Soviet economic and political turmoil to reassert itself as a world power.
Income from vast natural resources, above all oil and gas, have helped Russia overcome the economic collapse of 1998. The state-run gas monopoly Gazprom is the world's largest producer and exporter, and supplies a growing share of Europe's needs.
Economic strength has allowed Vladimir Putin, Russia's dominant political figure, to enhance state control over political institutions and the media, buoyed by extensive public support for his policies.
Spanning nine time zones, Russia is the largest country on earth in terms of surface area, although large tracts in the north and east are inhospitable and sparsely populated.
This vast Eurasian land mass covers more than 17m sq km, with a climate ranging from the Arctic north to the generally temperate south.
In the period of rapid privatisation in the early 1990s, the government of President Boris Yeltsin created a small but powerful group of magnates, often referred to as "oligarchs", who acquired vast interests in the energy and media sectors.
President Yeltsin's successor, Vladimir Putin, moved to reduce the political influence of oligarchs soon after taking office, forcing some into exile and prosecuting others.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil company and a supporter of the liberal opposition, is serving eight years in a Siberian penal colony on tax and fraud charges. Yukos assets were later acquired by the state oil giant Rosneft.
During Mr Putin's presidency Russia's booming economy and assertive foreign policy bolstered national pride. In particular, Russia promoted its perceived interests in former Soviet states more openly, even at the cost of antagonising the West.
St Petersburg's State Hermitage houses a vast art collection
The tensest moment came in August 2008, when a protracted row over two breakaway regions of Georgia escalated into a military conflict between Russia and Georgia.
Russia sent troops into Georgia and declared that it was recognising the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, sparking angry reactions in the West and fears of a new Cold War.
At the same time, Moscow threatened to counter plans by the US Bush administration to develop an anti-missile system in Eastern Europe with its own missiles in Kaliningrad Region on Poland's borders. President Obama later withdrew the plan, in a move seen in Russian official circles as a vindication of the assertive foreign policy.
Another source of irritation between Russia and the US is Moscow's role in Iran's nuclear energy programme. Russia agreed in 2005 to supply fuel for Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor and has been reluctant to support the imposition of UN sanctions on Iran.
A gradual warming in relations between Russia and the US early in 2010 culminated in the signing of a new nuclear arms treaty designed to replace the expired Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (Start) of 1991.
Though disagreements remain between Moscow and Washington over US plans for a missile defence shield, there are signs that the thaw in relations could extend to a greater willingness on the part of Russia to apply pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.
The annual Victory Day parade marks the end of World War II
Russia's economic power lies in its key natural resources - oil and gas. The energy giant Gazprom is close to the Russian state and critics say it is little more than an economic and political tool of the Kremlin.
At a time of increased concern over energy security, Moscow has more than once reminded the rest of the world of the power it wields as a major energy supplier. In 2006, it cut gas to Ukraine after a row between the countries, a move that also affected the supply of gas to Western Europe
Ethnic and religious divisions
While Russians make up more than 80% of the population and Orthodox Christianity is the main religion, there are many other ethnic and religious groups. Muslims are concentrated among the Volga Tatars and the Bashkirs and in the North Caucasus.
Separatists and latterly armed Islamists have made the Caucasus region of Chechnya a war zone for much of the post-Soviet era. Many thousands have died since Russian troops were first sent to put down a separatist rebellion in 1994.
Moscow is convinced that any loosening of its grip on Chechnya would result in the whole of the North Caucasus falling to anarchy or Islamic militancy.
Human rights groups at home and abroad have accused Russian forces in Chechnya of widespread abuses against the public. Since the 11 September attacks on the US Moscow has tried to present its campaign as part of the global war against terrorism.
In a sign of growing confidence that peace might be returning, the Russian authorities called a formal end to the military operation against the rebels in 2009. Sporadic violence continues, however, with a major suicide bomb blast in September 2010 reigniting the debate about the efficacy of the counter-terror campaign.
Vladimir Putin has been Russia's dominant political figure since his election as president in 2000.
He served two terms as president before becoming prime minister for a four-year spell and subsequently resuming the presidency in May 2012.
His return to the top job raised fears that he would still stifle any moves towards political and economic reform. His election was followed by months of protests, which were sparked by allegations of electoral fraud but gave birth to a civil society which appeared determined to undermine Mr Putin's authority.
Born in St Petersburg in 1952, Vladimir Putin began his career in the KGB, the secret police. From 1990 he worked in the St Petersburg administration before moving to Moscow in 1996. By August 1999 he was prime minister.
He was named acting president by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, and went on to win presidential elections in May 2000, having gained widespread popularity for his pledge to take a tough line against Chechen rebels. He won again in 2004.
Mr Putin was barred by the constitution from running for a third consecutive presidential term in the elections of March 2008, and made way for his prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev. On Mr Putin's return to the presidency in 2012, he duly reappointed Mr Medvedev to the premiership.
His unprecedented move from the Kremlin to the premiership and back completed a carefully staged transition aimed at ensuring he remained at the heart of power. A parliamentary vote earlier extended presidential terms from four to six years, so that Mr Putin need not seek re-election until 2018.
As prime minister, he sought to burnish his image as a conservative defender of a strong state. In 2011 he railed against "ill-thought-out experiments based on often unfounded liberalism", and strongly criticised the Western-led military action in Libya.
In recent years Mr Putin has eased up on the choreographed macho antics meant to bolster his image in Russia, such as riding horseback barechested and shooting a tiger with a tranquiliser gun.
Russian TV is dominated by channels that are either run directly by the state or owned by companies with close links to the Kremlin. The government controls Channel One and Russia One - two of the three main federal channels - while state-controlled energy giant Gazprom owns NTV. Critics say independent reporting has suffered as a result.
The Kremlin gained control of mould-breaking NTV in 2001
TV is the main news source for most Russians. There is a fast-growing pay-TV market, led by satellite broadcaster Tricolor. The government is undertaking a project to bring digital TV to every Russian home.
An international English-language satellite news TV, RT, is state-funded and aims to present "global news from a Russian perspective".
Hundreds of radio stations crowd the dial, around 40 in Moscow alone. State-run networks compete with music-based private FM radios. The market leader is privately-owned music station Russkoye Radio.
There are more than 400 daily newspapers, catering for most tastes. The most popular titles support Kremlin policy, and several influential dailies have been bought by companies with close links to the Kremlin.
Russian journalists run the risk of attack and even murder if they delve too deeply into sensitive subjects such as corruption, organised crime or rights abuses. Russia is a regular target for criticism and condemnation from media freedom watchdogs.
Around 59.7 million Russians use the internet (Internetworldstats, June 2010). The web is less tightly controlled than traditional media, and opposition forces have found a home online. The most popular online sources are portals, blogging platforms and social networks.
The standard Russian country code top-level domain ".ru" has been joined by the Cyrillic alphabet rendering of ".rf".
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.