In 1903 (the same year the Wright brothers made their first historic flight) Constantine Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky published his book, Space Exploration by means of Reaction Propulsion Craft, in which he expounded the scientific foundations of space rocketry. This event marked the first scientific theory of spaceflight, ever published. It also served to mark the beginning of more than 90 years of Soviet/Russian breakthroughs in space exploration.
In addition to their many "first" over the years, the Russians have the world's only space station; more launch vehicles, including the worlds most powerful rocket engine (and there own space shuttle), than any other country; many other space engines/vehicles and spacecraft not available in any other space program; and, of course, the only "real (long-term) experience" living and working in space. The greatest testimony to their grand achievements in space is reflected in the fact that all the other spacefaring nations are involved in cooperative space projects with Russia.