Russia is a country about 1.8 times the size of the US occupying the vast area between Europe and the North Pacific Ocean. It has an area of 10, 672,000 sq. miles (17,075,200 sq.km) and a population of almost 150 million people.
Occupying a large territory in Europe and Asia Russia is spread over all climatic zones except tropical. It takes over 8 hours by plane to reach from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Pacific coast. West of the Ural mountains from the Black Sea in the South to the Arctic Ocean lies a broad plain with low hills where the historical core of the Russian nation is located. East of the Urals from the border with Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia to the Arctic coast lies Siberia - a scarcely populated area covered by coniferous forest, swamps and tundra in the north and mountainous terrain in the south.
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 indeed very cold 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, terrain, distance and remote location from major sea lanes, all these factors contribute to the situation when large parts of the country have almost no population and development. Russia has only 8% of arable land.
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. Other languages are used in ethnic minority regions. Russia has equal religious diversity: with the main religions being Russian Orthodox Christianity and Muslim overall over 150 confessions could be found across the country.
Administratively, the Russian Federation is divided into 21 republic, 6 krays (federal territories), 2 federal cities, 49 regions, 1 autonomous region and 10 autonomous areas.
The capital of the Russian Federation is Moscow. With its 10 million population it is the largest city in the country, its principal economic and political center - the seat of the President, the government and the State Duma (Parliament).
The Russian Federation, which covers one-eighth of the earth's surface, spans eastern Europe and northern Asia, and ranks as the world's largest nation in terms of its territory. Russia is followed by Canada, China and the United States. Russia's northern regions are bordered by the Arctic Ocean, with the Baltic Sea bordering its western territories. The Russian Far East is bordered by the Pacific Ocean, with the Black Sea bordering southern Russia.
This country stretches 2,500-4,000 km from north to south and another 9,000 km from west to east. Russia's westernmost point is located on the Polish border; its easternmost point is situated on Ratmanov Island (Bering Straits). The southernmost point is located on the Russian-Azeri border, and the northernmost point is on Franz-Josef Land islands.
Russia's borders stretch for a total of 58,562 km (with 14,253 km bordering other states and 44,309 km bordering the sea).
Vast plains cover most of Russia's territory. The Eastern European (Russian) Plain, replete with low plateaus is found in western Russia. The Mid-Siberian plateau, which is gradually transformed into the Central Yakut plain, can be found between two rivers, the Yenisei and the Lena.
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 to be found in southern Siberia. The Kamchatka mountains (including some active volcanoes) stretch along the Pacific coast.
Russia abounds in mineral resources whose total potential value (in world prices) is estimated at an impressive $30 trillion. Russia produces 17 per cent of the world's crude oil, as well as 25-30 per cent of its natural gas, 6 per cent of all bituminous coal, 17 per cent of commercial iron ore and 10-20 per cent of all non-ferrous, rare and noble metals mined across the globe.
The largest oil-and-gas deposits are to be found in Western and Eastern Siberia and on Sakhalin Island.
The list of Russian mineral deposits includes gold, silver, platinum, cobalt, antimony, zinc, mercury, and many others. Russian mineral resources are distributed rather evenly along the nation's territory. For instance, copper-and-nickel ores are mined in the Northern Caucasus, the Urals, Siberia and the Kola Peninsula.
Most of Russia's territory is located in the temperate belt. The Arctic Ocean's islands, as well as this country's Arctic territories, are located in the Arctic and sub-Arctic belts. At the same time, a small section of the Caucasus' Black Sea coast is located in the sub-tropical belt. Russia boasts just about every conceivable natural climatic zone -- tundra, forest-tundra, forests, forest-steppes and semi-deserts. In addition, the permafrost zone covers big expanses in Siberia and the Far East.
The climate is mostly continental, with average January temperatures ranging from 0 to minus five degrees Centigrade in Western European Russia to minus 40-50 degrees Centigrade in east Yakutia (Sakha Republic). Average July temperatures range from plus one degree Centigrade on the northern Siberian coast to plus 24-25 degrees Centigrade in Russia's CisCaspian lowland. Some 150-2,000 mm of precipitation fall annually on Russian territory.
Russia boasts 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.
Generally, Russian rivers stretch for 3 million km, dumping nearly 4,000 cu. km. of water annually.
Around 2 million fresh- and salt-water lakes are scattered across Russia. The largest lakes are the Caspian, Baikal, Ladoga, Onega and Taimyr. Lake Baikal, which attracts scores of foreign environmentalists, is the largest fresh-water lake in the world, having an average depth of 730 m (and a maximum depth of 1,620 m).
Forests cover some 40 per cent of the entire Russian land mass, with total timber reserves of 79 billion cu. m. 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, firs, etc.) are the predominant tree varieties there. Mixed forests are typical of mid-Russian regions.
For the most part Russia has turf and podzol soils. Black-soil regions can also be found here, with the richest soils in this category located in the steppes of southeastern European Russia, and along the Western Siberian Plain. Chestnut-colored, greyish-brown soils, as well as saline lands, are also located here.
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.
All in all, 73 per cent of Russian citizens live in urban areas.
The Russian Federation has 1,067 major cities, with 13 of them inhabited by one million and more people each. The largest cities are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg.
Moscow, which is Russia's largest political, industrial, research and cultural center, is located on the banks of the Moskva River (between the Oka and Volga rivers) and has a population of around 9 million.
Moscow was first mentioned in medieval chronicles in 1147, becoming the seat of an appanage princedom in the thirteenth century. Moscow's prince Ivan Kalita who ruled between 1325 and 1340 became one of the first Russian rulers to start the reunification process. Under Kalita, Russian metropolitans transferred their residence from Vladimir to Moscow, which thus became a political and clerical center, serving as the main force in the Russian reunification process and independence struggle.
Peter the Great moved the Russian capital to St. Petersburg many centuries later, though the people continued to regard Moscow as Russia's heartland. Russian emperors were still being crowned here, with local authorities founding the first national university in 1755 on Mikhail Lomonosov's initiative. In fact, education was free for talented youths of all categories of the population.
The number of enterprises soared dramatically in Moscow after the abolition of serfdom, and was further facilitated by the construction of railroads. At the turn of the century ten railroads linked Moscow to roads continue to operate even today.
Moscow became the capital of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic on March 12, 1918 and on December 30, 1922, it became the capital of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The municipal subway network was commissioned in 1935. The city's seven famous sky-scrapers -- the Foreign Ministry and Railroads Ministry buildings, the Ukraina and Leningradskaya hotels, the Vosstaniya Square and Kotelnicheskaya Embankment highrise apartment buildings, and Moscow University -were completed in the 1950s and the 1960s. As a result, the Moscow skyline was changed completely. The Luzhniki stadium sprang up in the 1956. It hosted the 22nd Olympic Games. The Ostankino TV tower, as well as the "corridor" of high-rise buildings which constitute the Novy Arbat Avenue, were erected in the 1960s.
Moscow's ZIL and AZLK auto works produce cars and trucks. The city's Krasny Proletary factory manufactures a wide array of machine-tools, while the Dynamo and Manometer factories produce electrical gadgets and instruments. Moscow also boasts the Serp i Molot Metallurgical Works and has a well-developed chemical industry, which is centered at its Kauchuk and Krasny Bogatyr factories, as well as impressive textile (the Trekhgornaya Manufaktura factory) and food industries, etc.
The Russian Academy of Sciences, nearly 77 colleges, 44 professional theaters, Russia's largest state library and 68 museums (roughly 20 per cent of all national state-run museums) are also located in Moscow.
The city is Russia's capital and the seat of its President, parliament and government.
St. Petersburg is the nation's second major industrial, research and cultural center after Moscow. In 1914 the city was renamed Petrograd, and from 1924 to 1991 it was named Leningrad. Its population stands at about 4,500 thousand.
St. Petersburg became Russia's capital in 1712, during which time all government organizations were relocated there. The population grew quickly, as the city continued to develop. St. Petersburg had a population of 95,000 by 1750. By 1853 over 500,000 people inhabited the city.
The first Russian railroad linking St. Petersburg with Tsarskoye Selo was opened in 1837. Another railroad connected the city with Moscow in 1851. St. Petersburg has now become a major Russian railroad junction, serving as the end port of the system of inland waterways which snake their way through European Russia's north-western region. It also serves as this country's most important Baltic Sea port.
The maritime academy was founded here back in 1715. The engineering school was established in 1719, while the miners' school sprang up in 1773. Road engineers' and forestry institutes were established in 1809 and 1811, respectively. As of today, the city has about 50 colleges and 15 professional theaters.
The city also boasts quite a few world famous architectural ensembles -- the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Alexander Nevsky Laura, the Palace Square and Winter Palace, the Decembrists' Square, where a monument to Peter the Great stands, St. Isaac's Cathedral, the Admiralty, the Academy of Arts, as well as numerous bridges.
The 1905-1907 revolution began here, followed by the February and October 1917 revolutions. During the Great Patriotic War Leningrad withstood a 900-day siege by Nazi forces.