Ethnicity in Russia

Russia is a diverse country with many ethnic groups. There are over 170 ethnic groups or nationalities in Russia. Native Russians and Tatars are some of the largest groups. There are millions of such people, as well as smaller groups throughout the country. Under the Russian Federation, there are 21 national republics that are home to various ethnic minorities. This is a major change from Soviet communism. During the Cold War, these ethnic groups had problems celebrating their traditions or religious heritage.

Today, Russia is more open and the government supports programs to help these groups. The country’s schools offer help in at least 38 minority languages, and other schools teach as many as 75 minority languages. These programs are part of Russia’s interest on behalf of the country’s various ethnic groups. While problems exist, these groups have a chance to succeed in ways that did not exist under Soviet communism.

Cold War and Ethnic Minorities

During the Cold War, Soviet Russia tried to ban many ethnic and religious traditions. Many groups Ukrainians, Poles, and Armenians living in Russia were victims of discrimination. There were policies that forced all citizens to only speak Russian and support communist policies. Many minority groups had to hide their ethnicity or change their names to survive. Other ethnic minorities such as Jews and Georgians faced religious hatred or racism. These groups opposed many Soviet policies and became targets of violence, and wanted more freedom and economic opportunity.


Tartars are one of the largest ethnic groups in Russia. With over 5 million members, these people play a major role in Russian culture. In the republics of the former Soviet Union, Tartars are still an important ethnic group. Other neighboring countries with many Tartars are Turkey, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. These people have been in Russia since the 5th century. Tartars speak three dialects: Eastern, Central and Western. There are also many sub-dialects. Tartars trace their history back to Turkic and Mongol tribes. Today, many Tartars practice Islam as their main religion. Tartars are in many Muslim countries and are now part of that same heritage.

Baltic Russians

Russians from the Baltic countries are another important ethnic group. These people are Russian-speaking citizens formerly from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. There are over 1 million Baltic Russians. During the Cold War, these groups often had problems with the communist government. Even today, there are still problems with discrimination and political persecution. NATO and the European Union have asked Russia to grant these people more freedom and the right to tell their stories in school programs. Overall, these and other groups have greater opportunity and success. Ethnic groups are now a real part of Russian life.

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