The following translation has been somewhat edited.

The current Coat of Arms

The present coat of arms was adopted on 30 November 1993 by the Decree of the President, #2050.  The arms: red shield, golden double-headed eagle with scepter, orb and three crowns.  Silver horseman is in red escutcheon.  The author of drawing — Evgeny Ukhnalyov is from St.Petersburg.  The horseman is not St. George.  Russia is not a christian-only country, and there are many muslims, buddhists and other religions. That is why the authors decided not to name the horseman a "Saint".  The commission to design the arms was created on 16 November 1993, and was led by R. Pikhoya, state archivist of Russia.  In 1991, a double-headed eagle (without crowns), breast-shield, scepter nor orb was drawn on coins.  The arms may be used without red shield (article 2, Regulation on State Coat of Arms).  Later theses arms were named the  "coat of arms of The Bank of Russia". 

Victor Lomantsov, 10 Nov 1999.


Differences between Tzar’s and current Coat of Arms

The current Russian coat of arms differs from the imperial one.  Now it is red with a golden eagle, back then the shield was golden with a black eagle.  Moreover, there are neither the chain of St. Andrew Order, nor the six arms on the wings anymore.  (Carsten Linke, 02 May 1996, and Norman M. Martin, 05 Dec 1997.)  Another difference between the current coat of arms of the Russian Federation and the coat of arms of Imperial Russia is that today, the center arms of St. George are mirrored.  The “czarist” knight shows his left flank, riding to the heraldic right side; modern St. George is seen from the opposite side, riding to the left.  (Stephan Gorski, 28 Sep 1998.)  The brown colors [on the image above] should be gold, this is the result of a scanned artifact.  When real (not CMYK) silver and gold is used in printing, scanning renders it as respectively gray and brown.

António Martins, 04 Dec 1997.


History and Description of the Coat of Arms

The Russian coat of arms was formally the golden eagle and all of its charges were on a red shield (without other elements) — much the same way that the Imperial coat of arms (before 1917) was the black eagle (with slightly different charges) on a golden shield.  (António Martins, 01 Apr 1999).  In Meyers Konversations-Lexikon 1889 I found the following description of the Russian coat of arms: On a golden shield a black, two-headed, triple-crowned eagle with red beak and talons and spread wings, holding the golden sceptre in his right talon, the golden imperial orb in his left talon; on the breast the Moscow coat of arms: St. George on horseback, piercing the lime worm [?, unsure translation of 'Lindwurm', C.L.].  On every wing of the eagle there are three shields: the coat of arms of Astrakhan, Novgorod and Kiev on the right, the arms of Siberia, Kazan and Vladimir on the left one.  The eagle is surrounded by the chain of the St. Andrew Order and headed by the imperial crown with two blue bands bordered golden.  Further it said, that the coat of arms was adopted in 1497 by Tsar Ivan III, who took the Byzantinian twoheaded eagle and improved it with the arms of Moscow. Carsten Linke, 02 May 1996 The two major symbolic elements of Russian vexillography [the two-headed eagle and St. George slaying the dragon] which predates Peter I [the Great] were both considered Russian state arms.  The older form (a mounted dragon slayer known as George the Victorious) was always associated with the Grand Duchy of Moscovy, later becoming the official arms of the city of Moscow.  The earliest graphic representation of a rider with a spear (1390) figures in a seal of the prince of Moscow, Vasilii Dimitriyevich.  The serpent or dragon was added under Ivan III (1462-1505), probably to represent the Christians of Russia defeating the pagan hordes of the east — Russia's traditional enemy, the Tatars.  The familiar Russian double-headed eagle was in fact a foreign symbol, adopted to demonstrate the imperial pretensions of the Russian Tsars beginning with Ivan III (the Great) in 1497.   Ivan married Zoe Paleolog whose uncle Constantine had been the last Byzantine emperor.  From 1497 on the double-headed eagle proclaimed Russian sovereignty over East and West.  (Nick Artimovich 06 May 1996, quoting [smi75b])  The colours of the Moscow coat of arms were settled in the 18th century.  Before 1730, various colours were used.  After 1730, the shield became red, the dragon — black, the cape of St. George — yellow.  Only in 1856 the cape became blue!  I think colours of the coat of arms of Moscow are based on national flag, and not the other way around.  (Victor Lomantsov, 10 Nov 1999).  The author is said to have seen the Russian coat of arms displayed both with and without a shield behind the eagle.  I believe that this is true for all the eagle-arms that stem from Roman Imperial Eagle.  At least I am sure for Austro-Hungarian one, which was more often represented without the (yellow) shield behind it then with it.  I believe it is also true of German arms, and most of arms of kingdoms in Balkan. (Zeljko Heimer, 06 Dec 1997, and Ossi Raivio, 05 December 1997.)  The arms on the wings of the Russian imperial arms are (clockwise starting from the heads):

(The author has followed European custom in translating "Knyaz" as "Duke", although many historians say "Prince" would be better.) The escutcheon is the Grand Duchy of Moscow.  Note that the Dynastic Arms (Romanov-Gottorp) does not appear in the Small State Arms (Maliy Gosudarstvenniy Gerb) but does, however, appear on the Great State Arms (Bolshoy Gosudarstvenniy Gerb) of the Russian Empire.  (Norman Martin, 18 July 1998.)  Known from seals dated between 1390 and 1423, the knight (without the dragon) appeared together the eagle on the seal of Ivan III in 1497.  One figure was on the obverse, the other on the reverse of the seal.  It is likely that the knight represented the czar himself, in the Byzantine meaning of Imperator debellator hostium.  Because he was represented killing the dragon, this lead to identifying him as St. George, but in the description of the seal of Ivan IV (1562) it is still said "a man on a horse".  Still, the 1667 official blasoning (?) of the coat of arms says of him that he is the “heir” [of the Byzantine throne].  Following modern Russian heralds (f.e. Elena I. Kamanceva), the knight was the "symbolic representation of Russian wars in defending the homeland from the enemies".  The main colours were blue for the knight dress, white for the horse and red for the background.  So it is likely that white, blue and red colors derived, as in many other cases, from the coat of arms. 

(Sources: [zig94], [sto74] and [fow69].) Mario Fabretto, 27 Nov 1998.