Russian is an Eastern Slavonic language closely related to Ukrainian and Belarusian with about 277 million speakers mainly in Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Belarus. It is also spoken in Latvia, Lithuania, Estonian, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Finland, Mongolia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Israel, Afghanistan, the USA, Canada and a number of countries.
The earliest known writing in Russia dates from the 10th century and was found at Novgorod. The main languages written on them in an early version of the Cyrillic alphabet were Old Russian and Old Church Slavonic. There are also some texts in Finnish, Latin and Greek.
Russian started appearing in writing regularly during the reign of Peter the Great (a.k.a. Peter I) (1672-1725) who introduced a revised alphabet and encouraged authors to use a literary style closer to their spoken language. The dialect of Moscow was used as the basis for written Russian.
Russian literature started to flower during the 19th century when Tolstoi, Dostoyevskii, Gogol and Pushkin were active. During the Soviet era knowledge of the Russian language was wide spread though the subjects authors could write about were restricted.