The flag of Russia was originally adopted in 1896. The flag was in use until the October Revolution of 1917, banned from use during the Communist era, and then readopted on December 11, 1993. The Russian flag is a rectangular flag with three horizontal stripes of equal size: a white stripe on the top, a blue stripe in the middle, and a red stripe on the bottom.
Historians argue over the historical origins of the Russian flag, but two tales of the flag’s beginnings remain the most prevalent. According to one legend, a Dutch sailor was sailing a Russian ship and was unsure what flag to sail on the boat. He asked the Boyar Duma, a council that advised Russia’s princes and tsars in the seventeenth century, what his ships flag should look like. This issue had never arisen before, and the Boyar Duma asked the sailor for his opinion. The Netherlands had already adopted its flag—a horizontal tricolor with a red stripe on the top, white in the middle, and blue on the bottom—and the sailor brought red, white, and blue fabric on to the ship. He designed another tricolor, similar to the flag of the Netherlands, but with a different arrangement of the stripes.
The second tale claims that Tsar Peter the Great visited Archangel, a city in northeastern Russia, several times in 1693 and 1964 to study European shipbuilding. The tsar ordered a Dutch-built ship in 1693, and when it was finished, it had a Dutch flag flying from the back. In need of a Russian naval flag, the tsar changed the arrangement of the stripes on the Dutch flag to create a Russian banner.
Both tales of the flag’s origin support the Dutch flag’s influence on the Russian flag. Red, white, and blue colors can also be found on the Grand Duchy of Moscow’s coat of arms, which depicts St. George wearing white armor with a blue cape, riding a white horse, and holding a blue shield in front of a red background.
As with the origins of the Russian flag, there are several interpretations of the meaning of the colors of the Russian flag. One theory holds that the colors of the Russian flag represent the Russian monarchical social system in which the white represents God, the blue represents the Tsar, and the red represents the peasants. Another interpretation argues that the colors represent the three main geographical regions of Russia: the white represents Belarus or White Russia, the blue represents the Ukraine or Little Russia, and the red represents Great Russia. Finally a third interpretation argues that the white stands for hope for the future, the blue stands for the present, and the red stands for the bloodshed in Russia’s past.