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1858, 100 kopeks = 1 rouble.

German occupation of Russia 1941, as Germany.

Before 1650

In early times an assembly of minor states under the central control of St Petersburg (now Leningrad), and then an empire until 1917. Had its beginnings with the establishment of the waterway between the Baltic and the Black Sea. This chain of lakes and rivers was the eastern defence of the Slav people against the incursions of Mongols and Tartars from the east. The Slays were mainly settled in the areas of Novgorod in the north and Kiev in the south which both came under the control of the Vikings in the 9th century. By the 10th century a new nation based on these areas had arisen. Its people were Slavic but they were ruled by Varangian (Nordic) princes.

The first nation, based on Kiev, included most of what is now known as European Russia. Gradually the importance of Kiev waned and central control was dispersed by the growth of small states. This trend made invasion from the east much easier and, having held the Mongols at bay for many centuries, Russia fell to the Mongol Empire in 1237-41. The only part to remain independent of the invaders was Novgorod.

The earliest postal service dates from the 11th century, which is much earlier than anywhere else in Europe. A number of letters written on birch bark have been found in and around Novgorod. These date from 1025 to 1055 and seem to carry messages of a largely personal or commercial nature. Although it is impossible to be certain, it would seem that an organized postal system existed and that literacy was at a much higher level than elsewhere in Europe. Letter carriers would have travelled by horse or cart or by boat on the rivers of the great waterway. Rules for the mail carriers were drawn up in the 13th century and those conveying military information were allowed to travel without limitation of cost or distance.

During the 15th century the power of the Mongol Empire began to wane and in south and east Russia it broke up into small territories. As the Mongols declined in power, so the Russians began to form themselves into a new nation based on Vladimir (now Moscow). Led by Ivan the Great, the Russians threw off the last remnants of Mongol control in 1481.

Russia's expansion continued during the following centuries. Eastward expansion into Siberia began in the 16th century. The colonization of Asian Russia continued in the 17th and 18th centuries. In the west, wars continued with Sweden and Poland, and in the south with the Turks and Persians.

The postal service in this period grew to meet the needs of the expanding territory. The Tartars did not interfere with the service which had already been established. They seem to have realized the importance of the link for the transfer of intelligence and commercial information. Post roads were established, and during the reign of Ivan the Great (1440-1505) the postal department was given its own centralized control and placed on an official basis. By 1526 it is reported that the mails could travel up to 125 miles per day. During the 16th century a new office was established which organized the post villages, and a tax was raised to pay for the service. This office, the Yamskoi Prikaz, or post-coachman's office, was also responsible for recruiting coachmen for the mail -coaches.

In the middle of the 17th century postmen were recruited from the literate coachmen. They wore a special uniform and were responsible for the delivery of mail. It is probable that during this period the Russian post was better organized than that elsewhere in Europe.


A period of extension and consolidation for Russia, much under the control of Peter the Great (ruled 1682-9 jointly with his brother and 1689-1725 by himself). He was the first Emperor of all the Russias and took his title in 1721. The early part of the 18th century was marred by a major war with Sweden which ended with defeat for the Swedes at Pultowa in 1709. This was followed by a war with Turkey, a near disaster, and thereafter Peter concentrated on extending Russian dominions in northern Europe, including Estonia, Lithuania and Finland.

In 1668 a statute of international postal communications was introduced. Initially this connected Moscow and Riga but was shortly extended to include Poland as well. As in Britain, this foreign service was maintained separately from the internal service. However, because of distance and hardship, the cost of the carriage of mail was high. It is reported that the cost of a letter from Moscow to Siberia in 1698 was 2 roubles.

The post was reorganized by Peter the Great, who closed down much of the earlier internal postal service, and a new main P0 was opened in St Petersburg to which Peter had moved his capital.

In 1783, under the Empress Catherine II, a standard postage rate was established for the whole of Russia. The management of a single postal service was established at the same time.

The first Russian postal markings appeared in 1766. Initially they showed the name of the town with or without a frame and these were used only on mail abroad. Early letters were marked in French but, later, bilingual wording in German and Russian was introduced.


In 1772 the break-up of Poland had been initiated by the Russians, Prussians and Austrians. This was completed in 1795 when Russia moved its western boundary to the River Bug.

In 1798 Russia signed a treaty with Austria and Britain; an army was sent to Italy, which helped check the French advance. However, the French gained the upper hand and the troops were withdrawn. For a short period Russia was at war with Britain, but after the Peace of 1801 Tsar Alexander joined the coalition against France in 1805.

The Allies were defeated at Austerlitz and in 1807 the Russians signed the Treaty of Tilsit and withdrew from the war. In 1808-9 Russia gained control of Finland from Sweden. France invaded Russia in June 1812 and advanced to Moscow by September. The Russians burned Moscow on 14 September and the famous retreat began in October. The loss of the Grande Armee as a result of this campaign began the fall of Napoleon. The Russians advanced into Europe in 1813 and Tsar Alexander was present when the Allies entered Paris in March 1814.

By the beginning of the 19th century Russia had 458 POs and more than 5000 officials. Postal rates were reduced and the volume of letters increased - the same was to happen in Britain in 1840. The single service which had been introduced in the 1780s brought greater efficiency to the Russian mail system, but the enormous distances involved made it difficult for overall control to be maintained. Contracts were made with private concerns throughout the country for the establishment of additional local postal services where these were required.

The postmarks at this time began to show the date of acceptance into the postal service. Many shapes were used and colours varied.


In the period following the Congress of Vienna, Russia consolidated its hold on the area gained. However, expansion still took place and war began with Persia in 1826. When this campaign was completed in 1828, war was declared on the Ottoman Empire. Both campaigns helped stabilize the southern frontier of the growing nation.

In 1830 Poland rose and tried to regain its independence but the uprising was suppressed by the Russian army in 1831. In 1849 Russia again intervened in Europe and assisted the Austrians to put down the Hungarian revolt.

Postal services throughout Europe were beginning to take on their present form, and the Russian service was no exception. The old post roads fell into disuse following the construction of railways and the greater use of steamers on the rivers. Control of POs was transferred to a new ministry in 1819 but became independent in the 1830s. Prepaid envelopes appeared in Russia in 1845. They had first been used in Finland and were sufficiently successful for use to be extended to Moscow in 1846 and throughout the nation in 1848.



Russia began further agitations against Turkey in 1853. Though these revolved around the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches in Palestine and who should have control of the 'Holy Places', they were also a ruse to allow the Russians to give more support to the Slav people of the Balkans. The French and British sided with Turkey and, after war broke out in November 1853, an expeditionary force was sent to the Crimea. The Crimean War ended in 1856 and the Allied force, which by then included Sardinia (q.v.), evacuated the Crimea on 9 July 1856.

Printed in the state printing works at St Petersburg, the first issue of 1 January 1858 was imperforate. On 10 January 1858 perforated examples were issued. Preparatory work for the introduction of these stamps had started in 1850. In 1855 some suggested designs had been submitted, and the first essays appeared in 1856. These were approved by the Tsar in October 1857 after the department had made some major improvements in the production method. Although stamps were first issued on 1 January in European Russia and Siberia, they were not available in the Caucasus or Transcaucasia until two months later.

In 1865 the first Zemstvo, or local stamps, were issued (q.v.).

In the twenty years following the Crimean War there was a great surge in the building of railways and this speeded the transmission of mail. By 1876 the total length of Russia's railways was almost 11,800 miles.


The growth of railways led to the appointment of a special administrator for the transport of mail by rail. POs were established at the main terminals and TPOs were introduced on most of the lines. By 1917 there were 340 trains operating this service.

The construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway had been under way for some time and by 1903 was complete except for the section at Lake Baikal which still had to be crossed by steamer. A postal dispute arose between Russia, and Britain, France and Germany on the use of this line to transmit letters to and from the Far East. The latter conceded that the service was much quicker but considered the Russian charges too great. Eventually France and Germany accepted the charges and Britain fell into line. Some mail was then transported but the line closed in 1904 with the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War.

In the meantime, Russia had its problems in the Balkans and with Turkey, and this was a period of almost constant border strife. Russian troops also fought in China during the Boxer Rebellion and Russian POs were opened in Peking, Kalgan, Tientsin and Urga in 1870, and at Shanghai and Chefoo in 1897. Stamps of Russia were used until special overprinted issues appeared in 1899.

In 1900 the Russians occupied Manchuria and held the area until 1907, when they were forced to give up the region after their defeat by the Japanese. Russian field and civilian POs were established and used either Russian or Russian 'China' stamps.

Russia became a signatory of the UPU in 1874.


Following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo, the Russians were quick to support Serbia against Austria and were soon embroiled with German and Austrian armies along the whole front. The defeat of the Russians at Tannenberg allowed Germany to occupy vast areas along the Baltic. German stamps overprinted for use in these areas were issued in 1916.

The Russian military machine, which depended on a repressive bureaucracy to administer its needs, began to collapse in 1915-16. The minor revolts in the early part of the century had already weakened the Tsar's hold and, following a bloodless coup in March 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated. A Provisional Government led by Kerensky was formed, but although new stamps were prepared they were never issued as the Provisional Government was overthrown by the Bolsheviks in October 1917. The capital was moved to Moscow, and the government became the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic. Stamps were issued by the new government in January 1918, but no real mail service could operate during the civil war which ensued.



Postal services were seriously disrupted between 1918 and 1922. The Soviet authorities had no stamps of their own until 1921 and they used stamps of the earlier regimes as well as fiscal and savings bank stamps in the interim. During the period of the civil war many issues were prepared locally and an explanation of these appears in the following section. The name of the country was changed in 1923 to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and first stamps were issued on 19 August 1923.


Russia invaded Poland on 17 September 1939 and advanced to the River Bug. After a treaty with Germany, Russia absorbed eastern Poland into its own postal system. The war with Finland in the winter of 1939-40 eventually gained the Karelian isthmus for Russia and in the summer of 1940 the three Baltic states were absorbed. Bessarabia and Bukovina were gained from Romania, and Russia seemed to have built a buffer along almost the entire length of its western frontier. However, Germany invaded Russia in June 1941 and quickly advanced to establish a hold on the whole of western Russia. With its allies Finland, Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria all adding to the strength of its assault, Germany had reached the Volga and well into the Caucasus by the summer of 1942. However, the failure to capture Stalingrad led to a gradual withdrawal, which was accelerated by Russian pressure during 1943.

On 4 November 1941 German stamps overprinted 'Ostland' and 'Ukraine' were issued. The former was intended for use in the Baltic territories, part of Poland and northern occupied Russia, the latter in southern occupied Russia. Both were withdrawn when the territory was regained by Russia.

After the battle for Stalingrad in 1942, the Russians gradually regained their territory and by 1944 began to enter Poland and Romania. By the time the war finished in 1945 the Russians had captured Berlin itself.

1945 to date

When war ended, Russian troops occupied the east of Germany, part of Berlin, part of Vienna and a zone of Austria. Although the occupation of Austria ended in 1956, Communist governments were established in East Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Control spread to Czechoslovakia in 1948. The Baltic states, East Prussia, Poland east of the River Bug, and parts of the other states were included in Russia to extend the frontier further west. Russian stamps were used in all areas incorporated into the USSR.

Repression lessened following the death of Stalin in 1953. However, the Communist Party remained dominant through out the Country until Mikhael Gorbachev became the Soviet leader in March 1985. Gobachev introduced a policy of complete restructuring 'perestroika' and openness 'glasnost' in an attempt to reorganise the economy which had been in a state of stagnation since the 1970s.

On 19 August 1991, a coup was attempted by elements of the Communist party and the armed forces. The coup was defeated under the leadership of Boris Yeltsin, the Russian President. As a result, the Soviet Union began to break up as the constituent Republics declared their independence. Gorbachev resigned as Soviet President on 25 December 1991 and on 26 December the USSR formally ceased to exist.

Russia was recognised as an independent state by the European Community and the USA in January 1992 and it took over the Soviet Union's seat on the UN Security Council. At the same time it also took over the USSR's seat at the UPU.

The Russian Federation is still the most powerful element of the former USSR, but has been dogged by inflation and some lawlessness. Yeltsin has become increasingly ill and will be replaced with new elections in 2000.

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS)

This is a multilateral grouping of 12 sovereign states which were former Republics of the USSR. Formed on 8 December 1991, it was intended as an overall umbrella grouping to cover items of mutual interest, including foreign, defence and economic policies. It was founded by Russia, Belarus and Ukraine and was initially joined by all the former Republics except the Baltic States and Georgia. Georgia joined the CIS in December 1993.

This Commonwealth has never issued stamps in its own right, but it is mentioned here to explain its position within the former Soviet Union.

The table of dates of becoming independent, dates of issue of the first stamps and the changes of currency are set out below:

Russan Zemstvo posts

First Russian Zemstvo posts appeared in 1865. The Zemstvos were elected district councils which were set up as part of a general reform. Posts operated by these councils operated outside the state postal service. They had their own regulations and postage rates and each area had its own stamps. The carriers appointed by the district would take the mail from the district town to other local villages or to the nearest state P0.

These district services were approved originally in 1865 but official authorization was not received for five years. However, the demand for these local posts was sufficient to lead 30 districts to issue stamps in the first few years. Ultimately, 345 areas had their own posts, of which 162 used their own locally-produced stamps. The Zemstvo stamps were only valid within their own districts, and once a letter entered the state service the official Russian stamps had to be used in addition.

The need for the Zemstvos declined as the state service began to penetrate the rural areas with greater regularity. By the time of the Bolshevik uprising in October 1917 there were only 40 services left, and these were then quickly closed down. This ended the period of local posts but led to more complications during the Russian civil wars of 1918-22.

Russian Civil War 1918-20

The success of the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917 led to a Civil War between the anti-Bolsheviks and the new central government. Many of the anti- Bolshevik groups issued stamps for the areas temporarily under their control.

North West Russia

The Northern Army under General Rodzianko captured Pskov, Gdov and Yaurburg in May 1919. Stamps were issued in September 1919. These units were later incorporated in the North West Army, which comprised all the anti-Bolshevik forces in the Baltic area. On 1 August 1919, Russian stamps were overprinted for use in this area, but they were withdrawn in November 1919.

A Western Army attacked the Latvian forces defending Riga. Overprinted Latvian stamps were issued in October 1919 and these were followed by Russian overprints in November.

South Russia

A Cossack Government had been set up at Kuban in October 1917 and issued overprinted stamps until 27 March 1920.

Another Cossack Government had been set up in the Don Republic. Stamps were issued in 1918 but the area fell to the Soviets in 1920.

The Provisional Government had issued its own stamps in January 1919, but these were followed in April by stamps issued by General Denikin, commander of the anti-Bolshevik force. General Denikin resigned his command to General Wrangel on 4 April 1920.

The forces, accompanied by many civilian refugees, were eventually forced to settle in Turkey. Until 1 July 1921, many stamps of Russia and Russian Levant were overprinted for use by this refugee body (see Wrangel Army Refugee Post under Asia).


A town in the former Russian province A town in the former Russian province of Livonia; later it became part of Latvia as Vidzeme and is now in Russia (Cesis). It issued stamps from 1863 to 1901 in its own name.

Central Lithuania

Area between Russia, Lithuania and Poland which was claimed by all three. Bolshevik troops occupied Vilna, the chief town, on 5 January 1919 and set up a Communist government. Overprinted Russian stamps (100 skatiku = 1 aukinsas) were issued on 4 March. Vilna was retaken by the Polish army on 20 April 1919 and by treaty with Russia on 12 July 1920 Lithuanian rights to Vilna and Groduo were recognized. The Polish army again seized Vilna on 9 October 1920 and stamps (100 fenigi = 1 mark) were issued on 20 October 1920. Adhesives continued to be issued until 1922. After a plebiscite Central Lithuania was incorporated into Poland on 8 April 1922. The Russians returned the area to Lithuania in October 1939; in August 1940 it was incorporated into the Soviet Union and it has used Russian stamps ever since.



1919, as Russia.

In November 1918, Admiral Kolchak assumed power as the ruler of Siberia, but he resigned on 4 January 1920 after the Bolsheviks captured Omsk. Stamps of Russia with surcharges of new values were issued during this period.

Trans-Baikal Province

After the collapse of Admiral Kolchak, a local White Russian regime was established at Chita from 20 January to 21 October 1920. Four stamps of Russia surcharged were used which are peculiar to the regime.

Amur Province


In February 1920 a Communist administration was established at Blagoveschchensk which ended when the Far Eastern Republic was founded.

Far Eastern Republic

FIRST STAMPS Russian overprinted September 1920.


1 gold rouble (zolotom) = 1 Japanese yen.

A buffer state between the Soviet authorities and the Japanese set up on 6 April 1920. It extended from Lake Baikal to Vladivostok until 26 May 1921 when the Priamur and Maritime Provinces broke away. On 19 November 1922, after the Japanese evacuation of Vladivostok, it .was annexed to Soviet Russia.

Priamur and Maritime Provinces


A Japanese-backed White Russian provisional government based on Vladivostok operated 26 May 1921 - 25 October 1922.

Stamps withdrawn in November 1922 when area was taken over by Soviet troops.

Eastern Siberia


Until gold currency was introduced throughout the Soviet Union, the annexed territories still needed specially surcharged stamps.

For later stamps valid and used throughout Soviet Asia, see Russia.



1918, 100 kopecks = 1 rouble.

1919, 100 penni = 1 Estonian mark.

1928, 100 senti = 1 kroon.

German occupation 1941, as Russia.

Before 1918

Northernmost of three Baltic republics which were made independent after World War I. Estonia had a strategic importance in the eastern Baltic, and, as such, was seized in 1721 by Peter the Great, who wished to extend his maritime outlets. Apart from the period between the two World Wars, and conquest by the Germans, Estonia has always remained a Russian province.

During the latter part of the 19th century the Estonians were subject to severe victimization by the Russians and many of the peasants were moved. The uprising against the Tsar in 1905 started the demand for home rule in Estonia.

In World War I the Baltic states of Russia were occupied by German forces and stamps were issued overprinted for use by German troops in the area. In November 1917, following the Bolshevik uprising in Russia, the Estonian parliament declared independence. The Russians could not risk losing the naval base at Tallinn (Reval) and moved forces against the Estonians. In the spring of 1918 the Germans moved into the country at the request of parliament and drove the Bolsheviks out of the country. As a result, Russia renounced its rights to Estonia in April 1918. Germany tried to create a dependent duchy but when Germany collapsed in November 1918 the Estonian provisional government finally emerged. During this period Russian stamps were used except that German occupying forces used the issues of the Eastern Military Command Area.

1918 to date

FIRST STAMPS Russia, German Eastern Command overprints 1916-18.


First stamps were inscribed EESTI POST and were used concurrently with some Russian values overprinted for use in Estonia, though the provenance of these latter issues is questioned.

Estonia was sandwiched between the twin threats of fascism and communism, and in October 1934 martial law was declared. The Russo-German non-aggression pact of 1939 led to the partition of Poland, and Estonia was forced to accept Russian military bases on its territory. On 16 June 1940 Russia occupied Estonia and it was admitted into the USSR in August that year.

In June 1941 Germany invaded Russia and quickly overran the Baltic states. Stamps were issued by the Germans in 1941 and these were valid throughout Estonia from 29 September 1941 to 30 April 1942. The German OSTLAND overprints for occupied Russian territories were issued on 4 November 1941 and remained in use until the re-occupation of Estonia by the Russians in 1944-5. Russian stamps were used until Estonia declared independence from the USSR on 20 August 1991. (For details of the break up of the USSR see under Russia)



100 sents = 1 Kroon introduced 22 June 1992 (previously Russian roubles).



1918, 100 kopecks = 1 rouble.
1923, 100 santami = 1 lat.
German occupation of Latvia 1941, as Russia.

Before 1918

Middle of the three states on the Baltic Sea which were independent from 1918 to 1940. Area came under Russian control in 1795 and remained under Russian rule until the start of World War I. Latvia was occupied by the Germans and stamps of the Eastern Military Command were used from 1916 to 1918.

Following the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, fierce fighting took place in the Latvian area. Initially this was between the German and Russian armies, but was quickly followed by further fighting between Communist Lithuanian forces and the White Russians. Riga was liberated by a pro-German force in May 1918 and the national council was established. Britain was the first power to recognize Latvia's independence on 11 November 1918.

1918 to date

FIRST STAMPS Russia to 1916, German Eastern Military Command overprints 1916-18.

FIRST STAMPS ISSUED 19 December 1918.

First issue was printed on the back of captured German military maps and was in sheets of 228. In 1923 currency was altered as the government wished to sever all links with Russia.

Attempts to remain neutral in 1939 were in vain. Non-aggression pacts were signed with both Russia and Germany, but the Latvians were forced to accept Russian bases in September 1939. In June 1940 Latvia was occupied by Soviet forces and was accepted into the USSR.

Germany invaded Latvia in June 1941 and captured Russian stamps were overprinted for use until the OSTLAND issue appeared in November 1941. In 1944 Latvia was liberated by the Russian army and Russian stamps were used until Latvia declared independence from the USSR on 6 September 1991. (For details of the break up of the USSR see under Russia).



100 santims = 1 Lat.



1918, 100 skatiku = 1 auksinas.
1922, 100 centu = 1 litas.
German occupation of Lithuania 1941, as Russia.

Before 1918

Southernmost of the three Baltic states which were independent from 1918 to 1940. Lithuania was independent in the Middle Ages, but joined with Poland in 1569 to form the Polish Commonwealth. When Poland was partitioned in 1795, Lithuania, as it is known today, was awarded to Russia, but part of the former territory was gained by Prussia.

Lithuania remained a province of Russia until World War I. At this time, the country was overrun by the German army, who tried to bring the area under German control. Stamps of the Eastern Military Command were used from 1916.

A nationalist movement began and in 1917 Lithuanian demands for independence were recognized. Initially, the provisional government sought to offer the crown to a Wurttemberg nobleman who claimed descent from a Lithuanian king. However, this offer was withdrawn when Germany was defeated in November 1918.

1918 to date

FIRST STAMPS Russia to 1916, German Eastern Military Command overprints 1916-18.

FIRST STAMPS ISSUED 24 December 1918.

In the development of eastern European airmail services, the Lithuanian airport of Kovno played an important part as the staging point for services further east. It was also linked with Finland and Scandinavia.

In 1922 Lithuania lost the town of Vilnius to the Poles and retaliated by seizing Memel (q.v) from the Allies. Lithuanian currency was changed in 1922. Hitler seized Memel in March 1939 and Lithuania formed an alliance with Russia. When Poland was partitioned in September, Vilnius was returned to Lithuania. The territory was incorporated into Russia on 21 July 1940.

Lithuania was invaded by Germany in June 1941 and various overprints on Russian stamps were used before the OSTLAND overprints came into use in November 1941. Russian stamps were re-introduced in 1944, when Lithuania was regained.

Lithuania was the first of the former Republics of the USSR to secede and declared its independence on 11 March 1990, though this was not recognised until 8 September 1991. (For details of the break up of the USSR see under Russia)

(Note: this is before the date of recognition of independence by the USSR).


100 centi = 1 Latis (introduced 3 July 1993).


FIRST STAMPS Prussia to 1867, North German Confederation 1868-71 German Empire 1871-1919.



1920, as Germany.
1923, as Lithuania.

City on the Baltic at the mouth of the River Niemen which had considerable importance as a trading centre. It was part of the Hanseatic League in the Middle Ages but passed to Swedish control and, subsequent to the Napoleonic wars, to Prussia. It remained a German city until 1919.

Memel and the country around it formed the eastern boundary of the German Empire and at the end of World War I was ceded to the Allies who wished to make it into a Free City. This was unacceptable to the government of the new Lithuania, which was immediately to the north. As a result, French troops garrisoned the town on behalf of the League of Nations from the end of 1918 to January 1923.

Stamps of France overprinted with Germany currency, and German stamps overprinted MEMEL GEBIET (first issued 1 August 1920) were used concurrently. On 10 January 1923 Memel was invaded by the Lithuanians and the French withdrew. After the introduction of Lithuanian currency in April, special stamps were issued by the new authority. On 8 March 1924 the Memel district became an autonomous part of Lithuania and no further issues were released. In March 1939 it was returned to Germany, and German stamps were issued without overprint. It used these issues until 1945, when it became part of Russia. Russian stamps have been used ever since.

Russia in Asia
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Break-up of Russia (1991-1993)
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