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The Russian Federation (Russian: Росси́йская Федера́ция, transliteration: Rossiyskaya Federatsiya or Rossijskaja Federacija), or Russia (Russian: Росси́я, transliteration: Rossiya or Rossija), is a country that stretches over a vast expanse of eastern Europe and northern Asia. With an area of 17,075,400 km² (6,595,600 mi²), it is the largest country in the world, covering almost twice the territory of the next-largest nation, Canada. It ranks eighth in the world in population, following China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Formerly the dominant republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia is an independent country, and an influential member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, since the union's dissolution in December 1991. In the Soviet Union Russia was called the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR).
Most of the area, population, and industrial production of the Soviet Union, then one of the world's two superpowers, lay in Russia. Consequently, after the breakup of the USSR, Russia again vied for an influential role on the world stage. This influence is notable, but is still far from that of the former Soviet Union.
Main article: History of Russia
The vast lands of present-day Russia were home to ununited tribes who were variously overwhelmed by invading Goths, Huns, and Turkic Avars between the third and sixth centuries A.D. The Iranian Scythians populated the southern steppes, and a Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the western portion of these lands through the eighth century. They in turn were displaced by a group of Scandinavians, the Varangians, who established a capital at the Slavic city of Novgorod and gradually merged with Slavs, constituting the bulk of the population from the 8th century onwards.
The Varangian dynasty lasted several centuries, during which they affiliated with the Byzantine, or Orthodox, church and moved the capital to Kiev in 1169 A.D. In this era the term "Rhos", or "Russ", first came to be applied to the Varangians and the pre-existing Slavs who peopled the region. In the 10th to 11th centuries this state of Kievan Rus became the largest in Europe and was quite prosperous, due to diversified trade with both Europe and Asia.
In the 13th century the area suffered from internal disputes and was overrun by eastern invaders, the Golden Horde of the pagan Mongols and Muslim Turkic-speaking nomads who pillaged the Russian principalities for over three centuries. Also known as the Tatars, they ruled the southern and central expanses of present-day Russia, while its western zone was largely incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland. The political dissolution of Kievan Rus divided the Russian people in the north from the Belarusians and Ukrainians in the west.
The northern part of Russia together with Novgorod retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol yoke and was largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Nevertheless it had to fight the Germanic crusaders who attempted to colonize the region.
Like in the Balkans and Asia Minor long-lasting nomadic rule retarded the country's economic and social development. Asian autocratic influences degraded many of the country's democratic institutions and affected its culture and economy in a very negative way.
Nevertheless, unlike its spiritual leader—the Byzantine Empire, Russia was able to revive, and organized its own war of reconquest, finally subjugating its enemies and annexing their territories. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453 Russia remained the only more or less functional Christian state on the Eastern European frontier, allowing it to claim succession to the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire.
While still nominally under the domain of the Mongols, the duchy of Moscow began to assert its influence, and eventually tossed off the control of the invaders late in the 14th century. Ivan the Terrible, the first leader designated Tsar (from the Roman Caesar, also written Czar) of Russia, finalized this process, consolidated surrounding areas under Moscow's dominion, and annexed the vast expanses of Siberia. The Russian Empire was born.
Muscovite control of the nascent nation continued under the subsequent Romanov dynasty, beginning with Tsar Michael Romanov in 1613. Peter the Great, who ruled from 1689 to 1725, succeeded in bringing ideas and culture from Western Europe to a Russia which had been affected by primitive nomadic cultures. Catherine the Great, ruling from 1767-1796, enhanced this effort, establishing Russia not just as an Asian power, but on an equal footing with England, France, and Germany in Europe. Unrest of the downtrodden serfs and suppression of the growing Intelligentsia were continuing problems however, and on the eve of World War I, the position of Tsar Nicholas II and his dynasty appeared precarious. Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the Romanovs.
At the close of this Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik wing of the Communist Party under Vladimir Lenin seized power and formed the USSR. The brutal rule of Joseph Stalin forced rapid industrialization of the largely rural country and collectivization of its agriculture at the cost of tens of millions of lives. Stalin also strengthened Russian dominance in the Soviet Union. During his reign, the Soviet Union fought against Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War, recognized in the West as part of World War II.
After the war the USSR established sympathetic communist governments throughout eastern Europe, and cemented its Cold War position by establishing the Warsaw Pact. The three post-Stalin decades gradually led to economic and social stagnation and nuclear détente, but they were also marked by Soviet scientific and technological achievement.
In the mid and late 1980s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize Communism. His initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into 15 independent republics of which Russia is the largest. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the strict social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period. Determined guerrilla conflicts still plague Russia in Chechnya and North Ossetia.
Main article: Politics of Russia
The Russian Federation is a federative republic with a president, directly elected for a four-year term, who holds considerable executive power. The president, who resides in the Kremlin, nominates the highest state officials, including the prime minister or premier, who must be approved by parliament. The president can pass decrees without consent from parliament and is also head of the armed forces and of the national security council .
Russia's bicameral parliament, the Federal Assembly (Russian: Федеральное Собрание, English transliteration: Federalnoye Sobraniye) consists of an upper house known as the Federation Council (Совет Федерации, Sovet Federatsii), composed of 178 delegates serving a four-year term (two are appointed from each of the 89 federal subjects), and a lower house known as the State Duma (Государственная Дума, Gosudarstvennaya Duma), comprising 450 deputies also serving a four-year term, of which 225 are elected by direct popular vote from single member constituencies and 225 are elected by proportional representation from nation-wide party lists.
Currently (April, 2005) the legislation to change this is being passed. If passed, on next elections all 450 members of Duma will be elected from party lists. Next elections are to be held in winter 2007/2008.
Main articles: Subdivisions of Russia, Federal districts of Russia, Federal subjects of Russia, Republics of Russia, Oblasts of Russia, Krais of Russia, Autonomous Oblasts of Russia, Autonomous Districts of Russia, Federal cities of Russia.
Federal subjects of the Russian Federation
The Russian Federation consists of a great number of different federal subjects, making a total of 89 constituent components. There are 21 republics within the federation that enjoy a high degree of autonomy on most issues and these correspond to some of Russia's ethnic minorities. The remaining territory consists of 49 oblasts (provinces) and 6 krais (territories), in which are found 10 autonomous okrugs (autonomous districts) and 1 autonomous oblast. Beyond these there are 2 federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg). Recently, 7 extensive federal districts (four in Europe, three in Asia) have been added as a new layer between the above subdivisions and the national level.
Main article: Geography of Russia
Map of the Russian Federation
The Russian Federation stretches across much of the north of the supercontinent of Eurasia. Although it contains a large share of the world's Arctic and sub-Arctic areas, and therefore has less population, economic activity, and physical variety per unit area than most countries, the great area south of these still accommodates a great variety of landscapes and climates. Most of the land consists of vast plains, both in the European part and the Asian part that is largely known as Siberia. These plains are predominantly steppe to the south and heavily forested to the north, with tundra along the northern coast. Mountain ranges are found along the southern borders, such as the Caucasus (containing Mount Elbrus, Russia's and Europe's highest point at 5,633 m) and the Altai, and in the eastern parts, such as the Verkhoyansk Range or the volcanoes on Kamchatka. The more central Ural Mountains, a north-south range that form the primary divide between Europe and Asia, are also notable.
Russia has an extensive coastline of over 37,000 km along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as more or less inland seas such as the Baltic, Black and Caspian seas. Some smaller bodies of water are part of the open oceans; the Barents Sea, White Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea are part of the Arctic, whereas the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan belong to the Pacific Ocean. Major islands found in them include Novaya Zemlya, the Franz-Josef Land, the New Siberian Islands, Wrangel Island, the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin.
Many rivers flow across Russia. See Rivers of Russia.
Major lakes include Lake Baikal, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. See List of lakes in Russia.
The most practical way to describe Russia is as a main part (a large contiguous portion with its off-shore islands) and an exclave (at the southeast corner of the Baltic Sea).
The main part's borders and coasts (starting in the far northwest and proceeding counter-clockwise) are:
- borders with the following countries: Norway and Finland,
- a short coast on the Baltic Sea, facing eight other countries on its shores from Finland to Estonia and including the port of St. Petersburg,
- borders with Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine,
- a coast on the Black Sea, facing five other countries on its shores from Ukraine to Georgia,
- borders with Georgia and Azerbaijan,
- a coast on the Caspian Sea, facing four other countries on its shores from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan,
- borders with Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, China again, and North Korea,
- an extensive coastline that provides access with all the maritime nations of the world, and stretches
The exclave, constituted by the Kaliningrad Oblast,
- shares borders with
- has a northwest coast on the Baltic Sea.
The Baltic and Black Sea coasts of Russia have less direct and more constrained access to the high seas than its Pacific and Arctic ones, but both are nevertheless important for that purpose. The Baltic gives immediate access with the nine other countries sharing its shores, and between the main part of Russia and its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave. Via the straits that lie within Denmark, and between it and Sweden, the Baltic connects to the North Sea and the oceans to its west and north. The Black Sea gives immediate access with the five other countries sharing its shores, and via the Dardanelles and Marmora straits adjacent to Istanbul, Turkey, to the Mediterranean Sea with its many countries and its access, via the Suez Canal and the Straits of Gibraltar, to the Atlantic and Indian Oceans. The salt waters of the Caspian Sea, the world's largest lake, afford no access with the high seas.
A fact often mentioned about Russia is that the federation spans eleven time zones from eastern Europe to the easternmost point in Asia. This is a confusing piece of information, because it is not a reflection of the width of Russia per se, but rather the width of a relatively northern portion of Russia that is not nearly as wide as Russia as a whole. The easternmost point in Russia is Big Diomede Island (Ostrova Ratmanova); the westernmost, the boundary with Poland on a 60-km-long (40-mi-long) spit of land separating the Gulf of Gdańsk from the Vistula Lagoon. The geodesic on the surface of the earth (i.e. shortest line between two points on a sphere) joining these two points has a length of about 6600 km (4100 mi), much of it over the Arctic Ocean north of Russia. In contrast, the distance between the two most widely separated points in Russia (the same spit, and the farthest southeast of the Kurile Islands, a few miles off Hokkaido Island, Japan) is about 8000 km (5000 mi), over 20 per cent further. This island is nevertheless further west than Big Diomede, by two time zones, and by over 44° of longitude, all but the nominal width of three of those eleven time zones.
See also: List of cities in Russia
Main article: Economy of Russia
More than a decade after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia is trying its best to establish a modern market economy and achieve strong economic growth. Russia saw its economy contract severely for five years, as the executive and legislature dithered over the implementation of reforms and Russia's industrial base faced a serious decline. Moreover, an emergency livestock shortage in 1987, which triggered large-scale international support, severely bruised the ego as well as the economy of the burgeoning Russian state.
But however inefficient in terms of free market and consumer tastes the former Soviet economy was, Russian people in general after mid50-s lived much better than the citizens of long market-oriented and capitalistic Mexico, Brazil, India or Argentina.
Illiteracy rate was virtually zero, higher education very good and affordable, unemployment was practically non-existent, gender equality one of the most remarkable in the world with females sometimes advancing further than males in their pursuit of careers, especially in science. Many families owned cars, TV's, tape-recorders, could afford travelling by plane at least once a year to the famous seaside resorts.
Nevertheless, the assortment of consumer goods (in particular cloths and food) was relatively primitive and the shortage of housing very pronounced in many of the urban areas although poor sanitation slums were rare.
After the break-up of the USSR, that was caused more by ethno-racial than economic reasons, Russia's first slight recovery showing the signs of open-market influence occurred in 1997, but that year's Asian financial crisis culminated in the August depreciation of the ruble in 1998, a debt default by the government, and a sharp deterioration in living standards for most of the population. 1998 was consequently marked by recession and intense capital-flight.
However, the economy mildly recovered in 1999. Then it has entered a phase of rapid expansion, its GDP growing by an average of 6.8% annually in 1999-2004 on the back of higher oil prices, weaker ruble, increasing service production and industrial output.
This recovery, along with a renewed government effort in 2000 and 2001 to advance lagging structural reforms, have raised business and investor confidence over Russia's prospects in its second decade of transition. Russia remains heavily dependent on exports of commodities, particularly oil, natural gas, metals, and timber, which account for over 80% of exports, leaving the country vulnerable to swings in world prices. In recent years, however, the economy was also driven by growing internal consumer demand that has increased by over 12% annually in 2000-2004, showing the strengthening of its own internal market.
Country's GDP has shot up to reach $1.5 trillion dollars in 2004, that made it eleventh largest single economy in the world and fifth largest in Europe, closely following that of Italy ($1.6), France (1.7) and Britain (1.7). Probably within 3 years assuming that the 6% rate of growth persists the country is estimated to become second largest European economy after Germany ($2.3) and eighth largest in the world. The country's capital region of Moscow contributes 30% to the country's GDP.
The greatest challenge facing the Russian economy is how to encourage the development of SME (small and medium sized enterprises) in a business climate dominated by Russian oligarchs and having a young and dysfunctional banking system. Many of Russia's banks are owned by entrepreneurs or oligarchs, who often use the deposits to lend to their own businesses.
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank have attempted to kick-start normal banking practices by making equity and debt investments in a number of banks, but with very limited success.
Other problems include disproportional economic development of Russia's own regions. While the huge 20-million capital region of Moscow is a bustling affluent metropolis living on the cutting-edge technology with the per capita income rapidly approaching that of the leading Eurozone economies, the rest of the country especially its indigenous and rural communities in Asia live like in the late Middle Ages. Market integration is nonetheless making itself felt in some other more or less large cities such as Saint Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg.
Encouraging foreign investment is also a major challenge. So far the country is benefiting from rising oil prices and has been able to pay off much of its formerly huge debt. Equal redistribution of capital gains from the natural resource industries to other sectors is also a problem. Teaching customers and encouraging consumer spending is a relatively tough task for many provincial areas where consumer demand is primitive, although some laudable progress have already been made in larger cities especially in clothing, food, entertainment industries.
The recent arrest of Russia's wealthiest businessman Mikhail Khodorkovsky on charges of fraud and corruption in relation to the large-scale privatizations organised under then-President Yeltsin has caused many foreign investors to worry about the stability of the Russian economy. Most of the large fortunes currently prevailing in Russia seem to be the product of either acquiring government assets particularly cheaply or gaining concessions from government cheaply. Other countries have expressed concerns and worries at the "selective" application of the law against individual businessmen.
However, some international firms are investing heavily in Russia. An example is Scottish and Newcastle, a beer firm who has found the beer market in Russia to be growing much faster than in other areas of Europe. Scottish and Newcastle has already invested heavily in the Russian beer industry (2004).
Main article: Demographics of Russia
Russia is fairly sparsely populated and has extremely low average population density due to its enormous size; population is densest in the European part of Russia, in the Ural Mountains area, and in the south-eastern part of Siberia. The Russian Federation is home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. As of the 2002 census, 79.8% of the population is ethnically Russian, 3.8% Tatar, 2% Ukrainian, 1.2% Bashkir, 1.1% Chuvash, 0.9% Chechen, 0.8% Armenian, and the remainder of 10.3% includes Mordvins, Belarusians, Georgians, Avars, Kazakhs, Udmurts, Azerbaijanis, Maris, Germans, Evenks, Ingushes, Inuit, Jews, Kalmyks, Karelians, Koreans, Ossetians, Dolgan Nenetses, Tuvans, Yakuts, and still others.
The Russian language is the only official state language, but the individual republics have often made their native language co-official next to Russian. Cyrillic alphabet is the only official script, which means that these languages must be written in Cyrillic in official texts. The Russian Orthodox Church is the dominant Christian religion in the Federation; other religions include Islam, various Protestant faiths, Roman Catholicism, Buddhism, and Judaism.
Main article: Culture of Russia
- The New Columbia Encyclopedia, Col.Univ.Press, 1975
Last updated: 08-13-2005 06:16:50