Russia

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RUSSIA is the largest single country in the world, extending into two continents and around almost half of the globe. Mainland Russia stretches from the Gulf of Finland in the west to the shores of the Pacific Ocean in the east and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Caucasus in the south. Russian territory also includes several large islands and the enclave of Kaliningrad (bordering the Baltic Sea, Poland, and Lithuania).

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The Russian coastline is longer than that of any other country in the world. In the north, the coast borders extensions of the Arctic Ocean, namely, from west to east, the White Sea, Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea, Chukchi Sea, and Bering Strait. Russian islands include the Komandorskie Islands in the Bering Sea between the Aleutian Islands and the east coast of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

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The elongated Sakhalin Island (Ostrov Sahalin) lies in the Sea of Okhotsk, an extension of the Pacific Ocean, which forms most of the coastline of eastern Russia. This island separates the Sea of Okhotsk from the Sea of Japan, which forms the coast of southeast Russia. The Kuril Islands (Kurilskiye Ostrova) arch in a long chain from the southern tip of the Kamchatka Peninsula to just a few miles from the coast of Japan and form a barrier between the Sea of Okhotsk and the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.

They are mainly volcanic mountains with 30 active volcanoes. The Russian coastline also borders the Sea of Azov, the Black Sea, and the Caspian Sea. The Black Sea is a tideless sea with its sole outlet to the Mediterranean through the narrow Bosporus Strait. The Caspian Sea is a saline lake and the largest of its kind in the world. It is made salty by evaporation and the slow accumulation of minerals. It is the habitat of the sturgeon, the roe of which is the source of Russian caviar.

The Ural Mountains (Uralskiy Khrebet) divide the country into two unequal parts, the smaller European Russia in the west and Asian Russia in the east. Most of European Russia is an eroded, undulating plateau that is part of the North European Plain. It has been worn away by the action of ice, wind, and water and, in general, does not exceed about 182 meters or 600 feet in height. Apart from the Ural Mountains and the Caucasus Mountains, the only other mountains in this region found in the far northwest in the Kola Peninsula. The Urals form an ancient, eroded mountain chain which extends roughly 2,415 kilometers or 1,500 miles from north to south, from the Arctic coast to the border with Kazakhstan. The Caucasus Mountains belong to a different geological period being much younger and situated in an active earthquake zone. The highest mountain in Europe, the extinct volcano, Mount Elbrus (5,642 meters or 18,510 feet), is located here.

There are several broad, marshy areas in European Russia, occurring mainly in the north and a large region of lakes in the northwest called the Great Lakes. The largest of these is Lake Lagoda (Ozero Ladozhskoye) north of St Petersburg and Lake Onega (Ozero Onezhskoye), slightly farther to the west. Both lakes and marshes are features of the last Ice Age and were left when the ice melted and retreated. Other glacial landforms include moraines (mounds of debris deposited by ice) and broad U-shaped valleys excavated by the glaciers which once covered the mountains.

The primary river system of European Russia is the Volga and its tributaries. The Volga is the longest river in Europe and flows for 3,692 kilometers or 2,293 miles, arising in the Valdai Hills northwest of Moscow and running east and south to its delta in the Caspian Sea. The Volga has several principal tributaries and is dammed in places to create several large lakes. The river, which is navigable for almost its entire length, has been used as a means of trade and communication for many centuries and today is also a source of hydroelectric power. Other significant rivers in the region include the Divina, Pecora, and Don.

Asian Russia is essentially a vast plain which has a large central plateau and is fringed by mountains in the south, east, and northeast. The broad, low-lying West Siberian Plain is a marshy, poorly drained area of swamps situated east of the Ural Mountains. It continues southwards to the border with Kazakhstan and also southeastwards until the land begins to rise towards the southern mountains. In the east, the plain is interrupted by the great mass of the Central Siberian Plateau, which varies in height between about 486-699 meters or 1,600-2,300 feet above sea level. It is an area of rolling uplands with deeply dissected river valleys and, in places, spectacular gorges eroded by the action of water on the surrounding rocks. The plain continues to the north of the plateau as the North Siberian Lowland and also to the east, although here the land is slightly higher and less marshy. High mountain ranges in the northeastern corner of Kazakhstan, and most of Mongolia continue across the southern border of Asian Russia.

A broad swathe of the region is mountainous, and the ranges include the Altai, Zapadnyy Sajan, Vostoctmy Sayan, Yabtonovyy Khrebet, and, in the east, the Stanovoy Khrebet. In the far southeast, flanking the Sea of Japan north of Vladivostok, there are the ranges of the Sikhote-Alin Khrebet. The mountains continue northwards to occupy most of Eastern Siberia. Asian Russia contains several rivers that flow for hundreds, if not thousands, of miles. They include the River Lena (4,271 kilometers or 2,653 miles), the Irtysh and Ob rivers (a collective length of 5,413 kilometers or 3,362 miles), and the River Yemsey (Enisej) which arises in Mongolia and flows northwards to empty into the Kara Sea.

There are numerous lakes in the marshy, low-lying plains of Asian Russia, but the most famous one of all, Lake Baikal, is located in the mountains of the south. Lake Baikal is the deepest freshwater lake in the world, filling a rift valley and having the greatest depth of about 1,737 meters or 5,714 feet and a surface area of about 31,491 square kilometers or 12,159 square miles. It has the most extensive collection of surface freshwater on the Earth and is the source of the River Angara, the main tributary of the River Yenisey.

Most people live in European Russia, and three-quarters of the population inhabit the cities or urban areas. Moscow is the capital and largest city, but there are many other important cities and towns, including St Petersburg (Sankt Peterburg), Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, and Samara.

Although there are considerable variations, most of Russia experiences freezing winters and summers, which may be mild, warm, or hot, depending upon the location and general air masses, rainfall is generally most significant in the summer months. However, in most of the steppe regions, conditions tend to be dry, and this can pose problems for agriculture. Snow can accumulate in considerable amounts even at lower levels but is a particular hazard in the mountains.

Agricultural land is found in broadband, which includes most of European Russia but narrows eastwards across the Southern Urals and tapers out towards the southern mountains. Beyond this zone, agriculture mainly restricted to some sheltered valleys and areas in the far southeast. Cultivation is only possible in the dry, southwestern parts of Russia with the aid of irrigation and elsewhere, in most of Siberia, the climate is too cold with frozen or waterlogged soil and an abridged growing season. During the communist period, agriculture centered on large-scale collective or state-run farms occupying thousands of acres. Today, most farms are still run as cooperatives, although there are a growing number of privately owned holdings that are all on a much smaller scale.

Agriculture experienced a considerable decline in the early 1990s due to the economic uncertainties which accompanied the collapse of communism. Recovery has been slow, but agriculture remains a vital part of the economy, with most of the output produced for the home market. Many different types of crops are grown, including the major cereals (wheat, barley, rye, oats), rice, soya beans, millet, sunflower seeds, sugar beet, buckwheat, maize, and vegetables, especially potatoes and peas. Fruits of various kinds, including apples, pears, cherries, and grapes, are grown in suitable areas. Cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, and horses are all-important livestock animals.

Forestry is of great importance to Russia, which has about 50 percent of the world’s coniferous forests. Many of the more accessible forests containing the most valuable trees located in European Russia and these have I now harvested quite heavily. Remaining forests situated in the more remote areas of Siberia, where the predominant species is larch. The remoteness of the terrain has meant that, so far, the forests have not subjected to intensive felling. Cut timber exported in addition to being used in other industries such as pulp and paper. Still, the forestry industry as a whole was severely affected by the economic upheaval, which accompanied the collapse of communism in the early 1990s. It seems likely that recovery will be slow, but that forestry will remain an essential sustainable natural resource if it harvested carefully.

The Russian fishing industry is the fourth largest in the world. Fishing is of great importance to Russia not only for economic reasons but also because fish is a mainstay of the national diet. Traditional fishing was concentrated in the coastal waters of neighboring seas and also in the inland seas, freshwater lakes and rivers. However, as fishing technology has improved, the Russian fleet has begun to venture farther afield and now operates in most international fishing grounds. In addition, fish farms established in suitable waters to increase the catch. The greatest proportion of the marine catch harvested from the Pacific Ocean, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Bering Sea, with Vladivostok in the far southeast being the major fishing port. In the west, the main Baltic Sea fishing activities are centered off the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and at St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland.

Russia has valuable and abundant reserves of many precious mineral resources, and these include both fossil fuels and metallic and precious ores. The most important regions are Siberia, the Ural Mountains, and the Kola Peninsula, and deposits include coal, oil, natural gas, iron ore, nickel, gold, tin, aluminum, diamonds, zinc, lead, manganese, and copper. In general, oil and coal production has declined in the last decade, mainly because the more accessible reserves have become depleted. The costs of beginning new mining operations in the more remote areas of Siberia, where large fuel-bearing deposits are known to exist, have so far been prohibitive for the hard-pressed Russian economy.

Russia has a wide range of industries and manufacturing output. In the communist period, the emphasis was on massive industrial development and engineering, including the production of all types of machinery, railway rolling stock, shipbuilding, agricultural equipment, military equipment, and weapons, aerospace, and space technology.

Other areas of production now include computers and technological equipment, textiles, leather goods (especially footwear), electrical equipment, and foods. Industries have also suffered much as a result of the break-up of the old USSR and the change over to a more Western-style economy. Many economic problems at present beset the Russian Federation, and recovery is likely to be a long and challenging process. However, one of the factors in the country’s favor is its abundance of energy supplies, which include renewable sources and, in particular hydroelectric power, and this should stand it in good stead in the years that lie ahead.

Russia, with its spectacular and varied scenery and rich cultural, historical and architectural heritage, has always been a magnet for tourists. The proportion of Western visitors has increased considerably since the collapse of communism, and tourism provides a welcome boost for the economy.

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