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Guide to Russia > Geography and History


… as it's officially known

Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of size, occupying the area between Europe and the northern Pacific Ocean. It has an area of 17,075,200 sq. km and a population of almost 150 million people. Russia spans eleven time zones and two continents, ending less than 50 miles from North America.

The country possesses a wide array of natural resources including major deposits of oil, coal, natural gas, many strategic minerals, diamonds and timber. The economic zone along the 23,533 mile (37,653 km) long coastline (Arctic and Pacific Oceans, Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas) holds significant reserves of fish and oil and natural gas on the sea shelf. Most of the country has a so-called harsh continental climate characterized by a big difference between summer and winter temperatures (it gets very cold indeed in Siberia during winter, but it is also very hot in the summer). Russia's geographical location presents a significant obstacle to development - dry or cold climate, difficult terrain, long distances and the remoteness of major sea lanes all mean that vast expanses of the country are underdeveloped and scarcely populated. Only 8% of Russia consists of arable land.

Mountain ranges are mostly located in Russia's eastern regions and in some of its southern areas as well. The Ural mountain range, for one, constitutes a natural boundary separating European and Asian Russia. Various mountain ranges making up the northern slope of the Greater Caucasian mountain range are located in southern Russia. Another mountain chain, including the Altai range, is located in southern Siberia. The Kamchatka Mountains (which include some active volcanoes) stretch along the Pacific coast.

Forests cover some 40% of the entire Russian land mass. The largest forests can be found in the Siberian taiga, the far east and the northern European territories. Coniferous trees (fir trees, pine trees, cedars, larches, etc.) are the predominant tree varieties there. Mixed forests are typical of mid-Russian regions.

The climate is mostly continental, with average January temperatures ranging from 0 to - 5 degrees Centigrade in Western European Russia to -40 to -50 degrees Centigrade in east Yakutia (Sakha Republic). Average July temperatures range from +1 degree Centigrade on the northern Siberian coast to 24 to 25 degrees Centigrade in Russia's Caspian lowland.

Russia contains 120,000 rivers with a length of 10 km or greater each. The majority of all local rivers, major rivers included (Ob, Irtysh, Yenisei and Lena) are located in the Arctic Ocean basin. The Amur, Anadyr, Penzhina and some other rivers flow into the Pacific Ocean. The Don, Kuban and Neva rivers flow into the seas bordering the Atlantic Ocean. Russia's main river, the Volga, flows all the way to the Caspian Sea. Around 2 million fresh and salt water lakes are scattered across Russia.

Russia is a multiethnic society. The largest ethnic groups include Russians (81.5%), Tatars (3.8%), Ukrainians (3%), Chuvash (1.2%), Bashkir (0.9%), Byelorussians (0.8%), Moldavians (0.7%), etc. Over 80% of the population name Russian - the official language of the country - as their native language. Other languages are used in the ethnic minority regions. Russia has religious diversity as well. The main religions are Russian Orthodox Christianity and Islam, however there is also a large Buddhist and Jewish population.

Administratively, the Russian Federation is divided into 21 republics, 6 krays (federal territories), 2 federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg), 49 regions, 1 autonomous region and 10 autonomous areas. Russia has the world's fifth largest population (148.8 million people) after China, India, the United States and Indonesia. It is populated by approximately 130 nations and ethnic groups, including some 130 million Russians, over 5 million Tartars, nearly 4 million Ukrainians, 1.7 million Chuvashs, 1.7 million Jews, approximately 1.3 million Bashkirs, over 1 million Byelorussians and more than 1 million Mordovians.

The capital of the Russian Federation is Moscow. With its population of 10 million, it is the largest city in the country as well as Russia's principal economic and political center. Moscow is also the seat of the President, who is elected for 4 year periods, the government, and the State Duma (Parliament). The acting President of Russia is Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin.

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