...About 81% of European Russia's people are Russians. The rest belong to dozens of smaller ethnic groups, all with their own languages and cultural traditions (in varying degrees of usage), and varied religions. Their complex distribution has been shaped by war, forced movements and migration over many thousands of years. Many ethnic groups have their own republics within Russia , some of which - notably Tatarstan - have developed societies with a character different from the rest of European Russia.
Middle Volga Minorities
The region east of Moscow , around the middle section of the Volga River and its tributaries, contains the biggest ethnic minorities, though they're still outnumbered about three to one in the region by Russians. The system of republics in this region stems from Soviet attempts to limit the influence of the Tatars, historical rivals of the Russians.
The region's, and European Russia's, biggest minority is the Tatars themselves, who are descended from the Mongol-Tatar armies of Jenghis Khan and his successors, and from earlier Hunnic, Turkic and Finno-Ugric settlers on the middle Volga. The Tatars are mostly Muslim, and some 1.8 million of them form nearly half the population of the Tatarstan Republic , whose capital is Kazan , on the Volga River . A million or so Tatars live in other parts of European Russia, while a further million or so live elsewhere in the CIS.
Two other important groups in the middle Volga region are the Chuvash (1.8 million) and the Bashkirs (1.5 million). The Chuvash , descendants of the pre-Mongol-Tatar settlers in the region, are Orthodox Christian and form a majority in Chuvashia (capital: Cheboxary). The Bashkirs are a partly Turkic people, nominally Muslim, about half of whom live in the Bashkortostan Republic (capital: Ufa ). Here, however, they are outnumbered both by Russians and by Tatars.
The other four major groups of the region are Finno-Ugric peoples, descendants of its earliest known inhabitants, and distant relatives of the Estonians, Hungarians and Finns: the 1.2 million Orthodox or Muslim Mordvins, a quarter of whom live in Mordovia (capital: Saransk); the 800,000 Udmurts or Votyaks, predominantly Orthodox, two-thirds of whom live in Udmurtia (capital: Izhevsk); the 700,000 Mari or Cheremys, with an animist/shamanist reliQion, nearly half of whom live in Mary-El (capital: Yoshkar-Ola); and the 350,000 Komi, who are Orthodox, most of whom live in the Komi Republic (capital: Syktyvkar ).