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It is bordered by Norway and Finland in the northwest; Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania in the west; Georgia and Azerbaijan in the southwest; and Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China, and North Korea along the southern border. Tradition says the Viking Rurik came to Russia in 862 and founded the first Russian dynasty in Novgorod.

The various tribes were united by the spread of Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries; Vladimir “the Saint” was converted in 988.

Nato risks a nuclear war with Russia within a year if it does not increase its defence capabilities in the Baltic states, one of the alliance's most senior retired generals has said.

General Sir Richard Shirreff, who served as Nato’s Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe between 20, said that an attack on Estonia, Lithuania or Latvia – all Nato members – was a serious possibility and that the West should act now to avert “potential catastrophe”.

General Shirreff said that Mr Putin could be persuaded into an intervention in the Baltic by a “perception” of weakness in Nato, and predicted that, as in Crimea, the Russian president would present his actions as an act of defence to protect the large Russian-speaking minorities in those countries.

Nato has already stepped up defences in the Baltic states, but General Shirreff said that it needed to “raise the bar sufficiently high for any aggressor to say it is not worth the risk." “I would argue the bar is not high enough at the moment,” he added.

"If NATO countries made their full and complete contributions, then NATO would be even stronger than it is today, especially from the threat of terrorism," Trump said.

General Shirreff said: “The chilling fact is that because Russia hardwires nuclear thinking and capability to every aspect of their defence capability, this would be nuclear war.

The traditional post-imperial historiography dates the emergence of Cossacks to the 14th or 15th centuries, when two connected groups emerged, the Zaporozhian Sich of the Dnieper and the Don Cossack Host.

The Zaporizhian Sich were a vassal people of Poland–Lithuania during feudal times.

During the 11th century, the grand dukes of Kiev held such centralizing power as existed.

In 1240, Kiev was destroyed by the Mongols, and the Russian territory was split into numerous smaller dukedoms.

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