Russian is an East Slavic language, which is official in Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, as well as being widely spoken throughout Eastern Europe, the Baltic states, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It was the de facto language of the Soviet Union until its dissolution on 25 December 1991. It is the most widely spoken of the Slavic languages and the largest native language in Europe, with 144 million speakers in Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.
Russian distinguishes between consonant phonemes with palatal secondary articulation and those without, the so-called soft and hardsounds. Almost every consonant has a hard or a soft counterpart, and the distinction is a prominent feature of the language. Another important aspect is the reduction of unstressed vowels.