Russian is a Slavic language that is, grammatically, among the most complex most Western European languages. Although there was once a single common Slavic language, because of geographic separation and historical events, after 1000 AD the Slavic language split into three main branches: West Slavic, East Slavic, and South Slavic.
Russian is the most widespread of three East Slavic languages: approximately 140 million speakers consider it their first language. Now the native language of the Russian Federation, Russian was widely used throughout the Soviet Union, and is still used in several eastern European countries. Belorussian and Ukrainian are the other two languages of this branch.
The language of the Eastern Orthodox Church was an enormous influence on the Russian language and names. The earliest Russian texts, the "Chronicles", were written in the twelfth century AD in a mixture of original Russian and Old Church Slavonic. In the 18th century, Peter the Great changed the Russian language by altering the Old Church Slavonic alphabet. In 1918, this alphabet was further simplified to form the current system of 33 letters.
The main dialects of Russian are Northern Great Russian and Southern Great Russian, although there is a smaller Central Russian dialect. Literary Russian is based on the dialect used in Moscow.