Russian language, also called Great Russian, member of the East Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Slavic languages). The principal language of administration in the Soviet Union, Russian is spoken by about 170 million people as a first language. It is a second language for additional 100 million in the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet Union) and of Eastern Europe. Closely related to Russian are the other East Slavic tongues, Ukrainian (also called Little Russian or Ruthenian) and Belarusian (or White Russian). The former is spoken by about 45 million people, mainly in Ukraine and Russia. The latter, which also uses a form of the Cyrillic alphabet, is the tongue of about 8 million persons, most of whom live in Belarus. Because of its large number of speakers and its leading position in the Soviet Union, Russian is one of the chief languages of the world; at the same time, a number of non-Russian former Soviet republics, most prominently the Baltic nations, have move to replace Russian with the local language as the language of government, commerce, and education and to adopt English as a second language. Used officially by the United Nations, Russian is important in scientific writing as well. The great literary works written in Russian also have made the language culturally significant.
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