Russian is spoken by more than 250 million people across the Russian Federation and in countries that formerly belonged to the Soviet Union. It is the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world, behind Chinese, English, Hindustani and Spanish.

Knowledge of the Russian language opens the door to a fascinating culture that has exerted enormous influence on the rest of the world. Occupying the eastern boundary of Europe, Russia has both shared in and diverged from the rest of that continent. It has undergone a series of dramatic changes over the course of its history. Russia remains a strategic concern — and the U.S. State Department designates Russian as one of a handful of strategic languages the study of which is vital to U.S. foreign and military policy.

But Russian is also the language of a wonderfully rich and beautiful culture, the medium in which some of the most important works in world literature unfold. Its musical and artistic culture experienced a brilliant efflorescence in the 19th and 20th centuries. It is home to some of the most significant developments in the art of the ballet.