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The history of exploration by citizens or subjects of the Russian Federation, the Soviet Union, the Russian Empire, the Tsardom of Russia and other Russian predecessor states forms a significant part of the history of Russia as well as the history of the world.

The last major unknown archipelago on Earth, Severnaya Zemlya, was discovered by Boris Vilkitsky during his expedition on the icebreakers Taymyr and Vaygach The Soviet Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route under Otto Shmidt completed the exploration of the Russian Arctic and established regular marine communications alongside Russia's northern shores in the 1930s.

North Pole-1, the drifting ice station populated by the team led by Ivan Papanin, became the first expedition of its kind in 1937–38, and inaugurated a succession of drifting polar research stations which continues to this day.

Proclaimed the Tsardom of Russia, by the end of the 16th century the state had colonized the easternmost territories of Europe by conquering the Khanate of Kazan in 1552 and the Khanate of Astrakhan in 1556, thus gaining full control of the Volga River valley.

The road to Asia was opened, and in 1581 Yermak Timofeyevich crossed the Ural Mountains with a band of adventurers, defeated the Siberian Khanate and started the Russian conquest of Siberia.

Russians mapped most of the Alaskan coasts and nearby islands, explored the inner areas of the peninsula, and went as far south as Fort Ross in California.

In 1803–06 the first Russian circumnavigation was led by Ivan Kruzenshtern and Yury Lisyansky, partly with the aim of establishing direct marine communications between Saint Petersburg and Russian America.

By the early 18th century Russians under Vladimir Atlasov had colonised Kamchatka.

Peter the Great, who turned the country into the Russian Empire in 1721, ordered the first instrumental mapping of Russia, and conceived the Great Northern Expedition, which was carried out after the Emperor's death with Vitus Bering as the leader and main organizer.

Following the settlement of East Slavs in the Russian Plain in the middle of the 1st millennium BC, through the next thousand years, most of European Russia came into the sphere of Slavic cultural and political influence, and finally became a part of the Russian state.

From the 11th century on, a group of Russians which settled the shores of the White Sea and became known as Pomors ("seaside-dwellers") began navigating in the freezing seas of the Arctic Ocean, gradually developing the first icebreaking ships known as kochi.

The rapid exploration of the vast territories of Siberia was led primarily by Cossacks and Pomors hunting for valuable furs, spices and ivory.