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Russia: Glossary
Country Study > Glossary


Academy of Sciences (Akademiya nauk) - Russia's most prestigious scholarly institute, established in 1725 by Peter the Great. The Academy of Sciences has historically carried out long-range research and developed new technology. The Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union conducted basic research in the physical, natural, mathematical, and social sciences. In 1991 Russia established its own academy for the first time in the Soviet era.

Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM Treaty) - A 1972 agreement limiting deployment of United States and Soviet anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. A protocol signed in 1974 limited each party to a single ABM system deployment area. In 1996 the United States and Russia negotiated to modify the terms of the treaty in order to permit testing of technology against non-intercontinental delivery systems.

balance of payments - A record of receipts from and payments to the rest of the world by a country's government and its residents. The balance of payments includes the international financial transactions of a country for commodities, services, capital transactions, and gold movements.

balance of trade - A record of a country's trade in goods with the rest of the world. The balance of trade differs from the balance of payments (qv) because the latter includes transactions for services and the former does not. When the exports of merchandise exceed imports, a country is said to have a balance of trade surplus or to have a favorable balance of trade. When the imports of merchandise exceed exports, a country is said to have a balance of trade deficit or to have an unfavorable balance of trade.

Bank for International Standards (BIS) - Established in 1930 to assist national central banks in managing and investing monetary reserves and to promote international cooperation among those banks.

Bolshevik - Originally referring to a member of the majority (bol'shinstvo), a name adopted by the radical members of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party in 1903. In March 1918, the Bolsheviks formed the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik). That Party was the precursor of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU -- qv).

boyar - Between the tenth and seventeenth centuries, a member of the upper level of the nobility and state administration in Kievan Rus' and Muscovy. Abolished as a class by Peter the Great.

Brezhnev Doctrine - The Soviet Union's declared right to intervene in the internal affairs of another socialist state if the leading role of that state's communist party was threatened. Formulated as justification for the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968. Mikhail S. Gorbachev implicitly abandoned the Brezhnev Doctrine in 1989.

chernozem - Literally, black earth. A type of rich, black soil indigenous to large parts of Ukraine and southwestern Russia.

collective farm (kollektivnoye khozyaystvo -- kolkhoz) - In the Soviet agricultural system, an agricultural "cooperative" where peasants, under the direction of party-approved plans and leaders, were paid wages based in part on the success of their harvest. Still in existence in the 1990s.

Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - Created on December 21, 1991, when eleven heads of state signed the Alma-Ata Declaration, expanding membership of the all-Slavic CIS established at Minsk two weeks earlier by Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine. The eight other members were Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The CIS aims to coordinate intracommonwealth relations and oversee common interests of its members in economics, foreign policy, and defense matters. In October 1993, Georgia became the twelfth member of the CIS. Efforts to strengthen CIS authority and interaction generally have not been successful.

communism/communist - A doctrine based on revolutionary Marxist socialism (qv) and Marxism-Leninism (qv). As the official ideology of the Soviet Union, it provided for a system of authoritarian government in which the CPSU (qv) alone controlled state-owned means of production. Communism nominally sought to establish a society in which the state would wither away and goods and services would be distributed equitably.

Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) - The official name of the communist party in the Soviet Union after 1952. Originally the Bolshevik (qv) faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the party was named the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) from March 1918 to December 1925, then the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) from December 1925 to October 1952. After the August 1991 Moscow coup, Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin banned the party in Russia and ordered its property turned over to the government.

Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) - See Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Congress of People's Deputies - Established in 1988 by constitutional amendment, the highest organ of legislative and executive authority in the Soviet Union. As such, it elected the Supreme Soviet, the Soviet Union's standing legislative body. The Congress of People's Deputies elected in March-April 1989 consisted of 2,250 deputies. The congress ceased to exist with the demise of the Soviet Union.

Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE Treaty) - An agreement signed in November 1990 by the members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO -- qv) and the Warsaw Pact (qv) states. The CFE Treaty sets ceilings from the Atlantic to the Urals on armaments essential for conducting a surprise attack and initiating large-scale offensive operations. The treaty includes a strict system of inspection and information exchange. The CFE Treaty entered into force in November 1992.

Cossacks - Originally an amalgamation of runaway peasants, fugitive slaves, escaped convicts, and derelict soldiers, primarily Ukrainian and Russian, settling frontier areas along the Don, Dnepr, and Volga rivers. They supported themselves by brigandry, hunting, fishing, and cattle raising. Later the Cossacks organized military formations for their own defense and as mercenaries. The latter groups were renowned as horsemen and were absorbed as special units in the Russian army.

Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon; also CEMA or CMEA) - A multilateral economic alliance created in January 1949, ostensibly to promote economic development of member states and to provide a counterweight to the United States-sponsored Marshall Plan. Shortly before its demise in January 1991, organization members included Bulgaria, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Mongolia, Poland, Romania, the Soviet Union, and Vietnam.

Council of Europe - Founded in 1949, an organization overseeing intergovernmental cooperation in designated areas such as environmental planning, finance, sports, crime, migration, and legal matters. In 1995 the council had thirty-five members. Russia achieved membership in January 1996.

Cyrillic - An alphabet based on Greek characters that was created in the ninth century for translating Eastern Orthodox religious texts into Old Church Slavonic (qv). Named for Cyril, the leader of the first religious mission from Byzantium to the Slavic people, the alphabet is used in Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. The Central Asian republics, Moldova, and Azerbaijan used a modified Cyrillic alphabet in the Soviet period.

demokratizatsiya (democratization) - Campaign initiated in the late 1980s by Mikhail S. Gorbachev to expand the participation of a variety of interest groups in political processes.

duma (pl ., dumy) - An advisory council to the princes of Kievan Rus' and the tsars of the Russian Empire.

Duma (In full, Gosudarstvennaya duma -- State Assembly) - Lower chamber of the legislature of Russia, established by Nicholas II after the Revolution of 1905, and functioning until 1917. Unlike advisory bodies such as the boyar (qv) dumy of the Kievan Rus' period and city dumy of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Duma originally was to be a national representative body with the power to approve legislation. The first two Dumy (1905-07) were quickly dissolved because they opposed tsarist policies; the next two (1907-17) were more conservative and served full five-year terms.

East Slavs - A subdivision of Slavic peoples including Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians.

European Union (EU) - Successor organization to the European Community. Began official operation in November 1993 to promote the economic unification of Europe, leading to a single monetary system and closer cooperation in matters of justice and foreign and security policies. In 1995 members were Austria, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, and Sweden.

five-year plan - A comprehensive plan that set the middle-range economic goals in the Soviet Union. Once the Soviet regime stipulated plan figures, all levels of the economy, from individual enterprises to the national level, were obligated to meet those goals. Such plans were followed from 1928 until 1991.

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) - An integrated set of bilateral trade agreements among more than 100 contracting nations. Originally drawn up in 1947 to abolish quotas and reduce tariffs among members. The Soviet Union eschewed joining GATT until 1987, when it applied for membership. It achieved observer status in 1990. In January 1995, GATT became the World Trade Organization (WTO -- qv).

general secretary - The title of the head of the Communist party Secretariat, who presided over the Politburo and was the Soviet Union's de facto supreme leader. From 1953 until 1966, the title was changed to first secretary.

glasnost - Russian term for public discussion of issues and accessibility of information to the public. Devised by Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to provoke public discussion, challenge government and party bureaucrats, and mobilize support for his policies through the media.

Golden Horde - A federative Mongol state that extended from western Siberia to the Carpathian Mountains from the mid-thirteenth century to the end of the fifteenth century. Generally, it exacted tribute and controlled external relations but allowed local authorities to decide internal affairs.

Great Terror - A period from about 1936 to 1938 of intense repression in the Soviet Union when millions were imprisoned, deported, and executed by Stalin's secret police for spurious political or economic crimes. The Great Terror affected all of Soviet society, including the highest levels of the party, government, and military.

gross domestic product (GDP) - A measure of the total value of goods and services produced by the domestic economy during a given period, usually one year. Obtained by adding the value contributed by each sector of the economy in the form of profits, compensation to employees, and depreciation (consumption of capital). Only domestic production is included, not income arising from investments and possessions owned abroad.

gross national product (GNP) - The total market value of final goods and services produced by an economy during a year. Obtained by adding the gross domestic product (GDP -- qv) and the income received from abroad by residents and subtracting payments remitted abroad to nonresidents. Real GNP is the value of GNP when inflation has been taken into account.

Group of Seven (G-7) - Formed in September 1985 to facilitate cooperation among the seven major noncommunist economic powers: Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States. Russia took part in numerous G-7 meetings, and when Japan ended its opposition, Russia achieved full membership in the renamed G-8 in 1997.

hard currency - Currency freely convertible and traded on international currency markets.

Intermediate-Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF Treaty) - A bilateral treaty signed in Washington in December 1987, eliminating United States and Soviet land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers. Most of the Soviet missiles were deployed inside the Soviet Union; all of the United States missiles were in Belgium, Italy, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and Britain.

internal passport (propiska) - Government-issued document presented to officials on demand, identifying citizens and their authorized residence. Used in both the Russian Empire (qv) and the Soviet Union to restrict the movement of people. More limited use continued in some parts of Russia in the 1990s.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) - Established along with the World Bank (qv) in 1945, the IMF has regulatory surveillance and financial functions that apply to its more than 150 member countries. The IMF is responsible for stabilizing international exchange rates and payments. Its main function is to provide loans to its members (including industrialized and developing countries) when they experience balance of payments (qv) difficulties. These loans frequently have conditions that require substantial internal economic adjustments by the recipients, most of which are developing countries.

KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti) - Committee for State Security. The predominant Soviet agency for espionage and internal security since 1954. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia inherited the central agency in Moscow. Governments of other former Soviet republics took over KGB property on their territory.

kolkhoz - See collective farm.

kray (territory) - Term for six widely dispersed administrative subdivisions whose boundaries are laid out primarily for ease of administration. Two include subdivisions based on nationality groups -- one autonomous oblast (qv) and two autonomous regions (okruga -- qv).

kremlin (kreml') - Central citadel in many medieval Russian towns, usually located at a strategic spot along a river. Moscow's Kremlin is the seat and symbol of the Russian government.

Lisbon Protocol - Agreement that implemented the first phase of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START -- qv) after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The protocol is an amendment to the START agreement by which Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakstan undertook the Soviet Union's obligations under START I.

Marshall Plan - A plan announced in June 1947 by United States secretary of state George Marshall for the reconstruction of Europe after World War II. The plan was extended to all European countries, but the Soviet Union refused the offer and forbade the East European countries to accept aid under the Marshall Plan. As a counterweight, the Soviet Union created the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon -- qv).

Marxism/Marxist - The economic, political, and social theories of Karl Marx, a nineteenth-century German philosopher and socialist, especially his concept of socialism (qv).

Marxism-Leninism/Marxist-Leninist - The ideology of communism (qv) developed by Karl Marx and refined and adapted to social and economic conditions in Russia by Vladimir I. Lenin. Marxism-Leninism was the guiding ideology for the Soviet Union and its satellites.

Menshevik - A member of a wing of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party that existed until 1917. Unlike the Bolsheviks (qv), the Mensheviks believed in the gradual achievement of socialism (qv) by parliamentary methods. The term Menshevik is derived from the word men'shinstvo (minority).

near abroad (blizhneye zarubezh'ye) - Collective Russian term for the other fourteen newly independent states of the former Soviet Union. Frequently used in policy discussions about Russia's continued domination of certain of those states, especially in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

New Economic Policy (Novaya ekonomicheskaya politika -- NEP) - Instituted in 1921, it let peasants sell produce on an open market and permitted private ownership of small enterprises. Cultural restrictions also were relaxed during this period. NEP declined with the introduction of collectivization and was officially ended by Joseph V. Stalin in December 1929.

nomenklatura - The communist party's system of appointing reliable party members to key government positions and other important organizations. Also refers to the individuals as a social group.

North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) - Founded in 1949, NATO served as the primary collective defense alliance in the containment of Soviet expansionism. Its military and administrative structure remain intact. The question of expanding NATO to include former Warsaw Pact (qv) members and successor states to the Soviet Union became a key issue in Russian foreign policy in the mid-1990s. In 1994 the alliance introduced a program for the former Soviet republics and the former Warsaw Pact countries called Partnership for Peace (qv).

Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty - (NPT; full title Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons) Went into effect in 1970 to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and promote the peaceful uses of nuclear energy over a period of twenty-five years. In May 1995, it was extended indefinitely. Only thirteen countries have not joined the NPT.

oblast - A major territorial and administrative subdivision in the newly independent states. Russia has forty-nine such divisions, which approximate provinces.

okrug (pl., okruga) - An autonomous territorial and administrative subdivision of a territory (kray -- qv) or oblast (qv) in the Russian Federation that grants a degree of administrative autonomy to a nationality; most are in remote, sparsely populated areas. In 1997 the Russian Federation had ten such jurisdictions.

Old Believers - A sect of the Russian Orthodox Church that rejected the liturgical reforms made by Patriarch Nikon in the mid-seventeenth century.

Old Church Slavonic (also known as Old Church Slavic) - The first Slavic literary language, which influenced the development of the modern Slavic languages, including literary Russian. Used in liturgies of the Slavic Orthodox churches. After the twelfth century, known as Church Slavonic.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) - Founded by Western nations in 1961 to stimulate economic progress and world trade. It also coordinated economic aid to less developed countries. In late 1996, twenty-eight nations were members, and Russia had been invited to join at an unspecified date.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - Established as the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) in July 1972 by Canada, the United States, and all of the European states except Albania. In August 1975, these states signed the Helsinki Accords, confirming existing, post-World War II boundaries and obligating signatories to respect basic principles of human rights. Subsequently the CSCE held sessions and consultations on European security issues. The Charter of Paris (1990) established the CSCE as a permanent organization. In 1992 new CSCE roles in conflict prevention and management were defined, potentially making the CSCE the center of a Europe-based collective security system -- a role advocated by Russia in the mid-1990s. The CSCE became the OSCE in January 1995. As of 1996, fifty-three nations were members.

Partnership for Peace (PfP) - An initiative by NATO (qv) for the former Warsaw Pact (qv) member countries and the former Soviet republics, including Russia, to expand political and military cooperation and promote democratic principles in those countries. PfP aims to facilitate transparency in defense planning and budgeting, ensure democratic control of defense forces, maintain readiness to contribute to United Nations and OSCE (qv) operations, and develop cooperative military relations with NATO for peacekeeping, search-and-rescue, and humanitarian operations. All former Soviet and Warsaw Pact states were members by 1996, and many had conducted joint military exercises with NATO forces.

patriarch - Head of an independent Orthodox Church, such as the Russian Orthodox Church or one of the Uniate (qv) churches.

perestroika - Literally, rebuilding. Mikhail Gorbachev's campaign to revitalize the communist party, the Soviet economy, and Soviet society by reforming economic, political, and social mechanisms.

permafrost - Permanently frozen condition of soil except for surface soils that thaw when air temperatures rise above freezing. Thawing and refreezing cause instability of the soil, which greatly complicates the construction and maintenance of roads, railroads, and buildings. Permafrost covers roughly the northern one-third of the Russian Federation.

rayon - A low-level territorial and administrative subdivision for rural and municipal administration. A rural rayon is a county-sized district in a territory (kray -- qv), oblast (qv), republic (qv), region (okrug -- qv), or autonomous oblast. A city rayon is similar to a borough in some large cities in the United States.

republic - A territorial and administrative subdivision of the Russian Federation created to grant a degree of administrative autonomy to some large minority groups. In 1996 the Russian Federation had twenty-one republics (before 1992 called autonomous republics), including the war-torn Republic of Chechnya.

ruble - The monetary unit of the Soviet Union and the Russian Federation; divided into 100 kopeks. The exchange rate as of July 1997 was 5,790 rubles per US$1. Historically, the ruble has not been considered hard currency (qv). It became convertible on the international market in June 1996.

ruble zone - Name given the group of newly independent states that continued to use the Soviet, then Russian, ruble as the primary currency for financial transactions after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The ruble zone existed from December 1991 until July 1993, when the Russian Central Bank withdrew all ruble notes issued before January 1993.

Russian Empire - Successor state to Muscovy. Formally proclaimed by Tsar Peter the Great in 1721 and significantly expanded during the reign of Catherine II, becoming a major multinational state. The empire's political structure collapsed with the revolution of February 1917, but most of its territory was included in the Soviet Union, which was established in 1922.

Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic - (Rossiyskaya Sovetskaya Federativnaya Sotsialisticheskaya Respublika -- RSFSR). Official name of the largest of the fifteen union republics of the Soviet Union. Inhabited predominantly by Russians, the RSFSR comprised approximately 75 percent of the area of the Soviet Union, about 62 percent of its population, and more than 60 percent of its economic output.

serf - Peasant legally bound to the land. Serfs were emancipated by Tsar Alexander II in 1861.

Slavophiles - Members of the Russian intelligentsia in the mid-nineteenth century who advocated the preservation of Slavic, and specifically Russian, culture rather than opening Russian society and institutions to the influences of West European culture. Philosophically opposed to Westernizers (qv).

socialism/socialist - According to Marxism-Leninism (qv), the first phase of communism (qv). A transition from capitalism in which the means of production are state owned and whose guiding principle is "from each according to his abilities, to each according to his work." Soviet socialism bore scant resemblance to the democratic socialism that some West European countries adopted in the twentieth century.

sovkhoz - See state farm.

state farm (sovetskoye khozyaystvo - sovkhoz) -- A government-owned and government-managed agricultural enterprise where workers are paid salaries. Still in existence in 1997.

Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) - Name of two treaties. START I, signed in July 1991 by the Soviet Union and the United States, significantly reduced limits for the two parties' intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and their associated launchers and warheads; submarine-launched ballistic missile launchers and warheads; and heavy bombers and their armaments, including long-range nuclear air-launched cruise missiles. START II, signed in January 1993 by Russia and the United States but still unratified by Russia in mid-1997, further reduced strategic offensive arms of both sides by eliminating all ICBMs with multiple-warhead independently targeted reentry vehicles (MIRVs) and reducing the overall total of warheads for each side to between 3,000 and 3,500. In 1997 an important part of Russia's debate over future military and foreign policy.

taiga - The extensive, sub-Arctic evergreen forest of the Soviet Union. The taiga, the largest of the five primary natural zones, lies south of the tundra (qv).

territory - See kray .

tundra - The treeless plain within the Arctic Circle that has low-growing vegetation and permanently frozen subsoil (permafrost -- qv). The northernmost of the five primary natural zones of the Soviet Union.

Uniate - A branch of the Roman Catholic Church that preserves the Eastern Rite (Orthodox) liturgy and discipline but recognizes papal authority.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) - Successor state to the Russian Empire. Officially founded by Vladimir I. Lenin, head of the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik), in 1922. Dissolved on December 25, 1991.

value-added tax (VAT) - A tax applied to the additional value created at a given stage of production and calculated as a percentage of the difference between the product value at that stage and the cost of all materials and services purchased or introduced as inputs.

Warsaw Pact - Political-military alliance founded by the Soviet Union in 1955 as a counterweight to NATO (qv). Members included Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and the Soviet Union. Served as the Soviet Union's primary mechanism for keeping political and military control over Eastern Europe. Disbanded in March 1991.

Westernizers - Russian intellectuals in the mid-nineteenth century who emphasized Russia's cultural ties with the West as a vital element in the country's modernization and development. Opposed by the Slavophiles (qv).

White armies - Various noncommunist military forces that attempted to overthrow the Bolshevik (qv) regime during the Civil War (1918-21). Operating with no unified command, no clear political goal, and no supplies from the Russian heartland, they were defeated piecemeal by the Red Army.

World Bank - Name used to designate a group of four affiliated international institutions that provide advice on long-term finance and policy issues to developing countries: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA), the International Finance Corporation (IFC), and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA). The IBRD, established in 1945, has the primary purpose of providing loans to developing countries for productive projects. The IDA, a legally separate loan fund administered by the staff of the IBRD, was set up in 1960 to furnish credits to the poorest developing countries on much easier terms than those of conventional IBRD loans. The IFC, founded in 1956, supplements the activities of the IBRD through loans and assistance designed specifically to encourage the growth of productive private enterprises in the less developed countries. The president and certain senior officers of the IBRD hold the same positions in the IFC. The MIGA, which began operating in June 1988, insures private foreign investment in developing countries against such noncommercial risks as expropriation, civil strife, and inconvertibility. The four institutions are owned by the governments of the countries that subscribe their capital. To participate in the World Bank group, member states must first belong to the International Monetary Fund (IMF -- qv).

World Trade Organization (WTO) - The legal and institutional foundation of the multilateral trading system and successor to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT -- qv) as of January 1, 1995. The WTO acts as a forum for multinational trade negotiations, administers dispute settlements, reviews the trade policies of member nations, and works with organizations such as the International Monetary Fund (qv) and the World Bank (qv) in developing coherent global economic policies. The WTO also covers new commercial activities beyond the jurisdiction of GATT, such as intellectual property rights, services, and investment. Russia sought membership in 1996, but it had not been accepted as of mid-1997.

Yalta Conference - Meeting of Josph V. Stalin, Winston Churchill, and Franklin D. Roosevelt in February 1945 that redrew post-World War II national borders and established spheres of influence in Europe.

Last Updated: July 1996

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Russia was first published in 1996. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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