Picture Russian

Russian speaking countries

Russian is an official language in Russia, Belarus and Kyrgyzstan and is spoken in 19 other countries as monther tongue by a part of the population. The Russian language (native name: русский) has its roots in the Indo-European language family.

As a percentage of the total population, the largest share of around 82 percent is in Russia. A total of about 156.6 million people worldwide speak Russian as their mother tongue.
Distribution Russian

Russian is considered a world language and is spoken as a second language by about 60 million people in addition to native speakers. Russian belongs to the East Slavic languages of the Indo-European language family. It is widely spoken in all countries of the former Soviet Union and numerous neighboring regions. In Germany, it is the second most spoken language, even ahead of Turkish, with about three million native speakers.

CountryRegionOfficial languageDistributionTotal
RussiaEastern Europeyes82.0 %117,628,000
UkraineEastern Europeno32.9 %14,408,000
BelarusEastern Europeyes70.2 %6,557,000
UzbekistanCentral Asiano14.2 %4,958,000
KazakhstanCentral Asiano19.0 %3,610,000
GermanyWestern Europeno3.6 %2,995,000
IsraelWestern Asiano14.0 %1,311,000
TurkmenistanCentral Asiano12.0 %761,000
TajikistanCentral Asiano7.0 %683,000
United States of AmericaNorth Americano0.2 %664,000
LatviaNorthern Europeno33.8 %637,000
KyrgyzstanCentral Asiayes9.0 %602,000
MoldovaEastern Europeno16.0 %418,000
EstoniaNorthern Europeno27.6 %367,000
GeorgiaWestern Asiano8.8 %326,000
AzerbaijanWestern Asiano2.4 %243,000
LithuaniaNorthern Europeno6.4 %179,000
CanadaNorth Americano0.4 %153,000
ArmeniaWestern Asiano2.0 %56,000
FinlandNorthern Europeno0.9 %50,000
CyprusWestern Asiano2.5 %31,000
Åland IslandsNorthern Europeno0.5 %200

Time course of the distribution

The Russian language originates from Alto-East Slavonic and was first used by a few intellectuals in the area of today's Western Russia, Ukraine and Belarus from about the ninth century onward. In the centuries that followed, different dialects and variations developed in the territory of the Old Russian Empire.

Russian only experienced a significant increase in its spread after the Second World War, when the Soviet Union extended its power to other areas and subsequently gained greater political importance internationally. Until the end of the 1970s, Russian was taught as the first language in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc countries influenced by it. With the later dissolution of the USSR, interest in the language also declined and the number of native speakers outside Russia has been steadily decreasing ever since. Russian has become increasingly popular as a second language in the last two decades.

With 5.9 percent in 2011, Russian was the second most used language on the internet, followed by German in a very close third place.

Cyrillic alphabet

Based on the Glagolitic or Old Cyrillic alphabet that originated in Bulgaria in the ninth century, the Cyrillic alphabet was designed in the tenth century. The original letters were taken from Glagolitic and Greek. Cyrillic characters are used in many Eastern and Southern Slavic languages, which are mainly spread around Eastern Europe and Asia. The most commonly spoken languages with Cyrillic alphabet today are Russian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Bulgarian, Serbian and Macedonian.

A simplification was made in 1708 by Peter the Great, in the course of which several characters were discarded and the letters of the Latin alphabet were aligned. A further reduction took place in 1918 with the Russian spelling reform.

The present Cyrillic alphabet has 33 letters. Of these, 10 are vowels and 21 are consonants. Another two letters are used for accentuation. While the length of a spoken vowel in Russian does not change the meaning of a word, there is a significant difference when the emphasis of individual syllables is different.

Unless otherwise described in the text, this page is about native speakers — not the total number of speakers. How many people understand or speak Russian as a subsequently learned language is not the subject of this page. Countries where native speakers make up only a few thousand, or even a few hundred people, or countries with a percentage well below 1% are unlikely to be listed here.