With the aim of gaining insight into the genetic history of the Russians, we have studied mitochondrial DNA diversity among a number of modern Russian populations. Polymorphisms in mtDNA markers (HVS-I and restriction sites of the coding region) of populations from 14 regions within present-day European Russia were investigated. Based on analysis of the mitochondrial gene pool geographic structure, we have identified three different elements in it and a vast “intermediate” zone between them. The analysis of the genetic distances from these elements to the European ethnic groups revealed the main causes of the Russian mitochondrial gene pool differentiation. The investigation of this pattern in historic perspective showed that the structure of the mitochondrial gene pool of the present-day Russians largely conforms to the tribal structure of the medieval Slavs who laid the foundation of modern Russians. Our results indicate that the formation of the genetic diversity currently observed among Russians can be traced to the second half of the first millennium A.D., the time of the colonization of the East European Plain by the Slavic tribes. Patterns of diversity are explained by both the impact of the native population of the East European Plain and by genetic differences among the early Slavs. Am J Phys Anthropol , 2012. © 2011Wiley Periodicals, Inc.