Map of Russia
Map of Russia

Introduction to Russia

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 Europe and Asia. With an area of 17,075,200 km (6,595,600 mi), it is the largest country in the world (by land mass), covering almost twice the territory of the next-largest country, Canada. It ranks eighth in the world in population. It shares land borders with the following countries (counter-clockwise from NW to SE): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland (only through Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It is also close to the United States and Japan across stretches of water: the Diomede Islands (one controlled by Russia, the other by the United States) are just 3 km (1.9 mi) apart, and Kunashir Island (controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan) is about 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Hokkaido.

Formerly the dominant republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia is now an independent country, and an influential member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, since the Union's dissolution in December 1991. During the Soviet era, Russia was officially called the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). Russia is usually considered the Soviet Union's successor state in diplomatic matters.

Most of the area, population, and industrial production of the Soviet Union, then one of the world's two superpowers, lay in Russia. After the breakup of the USSR, Russia's global role was greatly diminished compared to that of the former Soviet Union. In October 2005, the federal statistics agency reported that Russia's population has shrunk by more than half a million people dipping to 143 million.

After the disintegration of the USSR, the economy of Russia went through a crisis. Outside Russia, in the newly independent states, were most of the nonfreezing ports, consumer goods factories, former Soviet pipelines, and significant numbers of the hi-tech enterprises (including the atomic power station). In Russia there was mainly heavy and military industry. Russia has taken up the responsibility for payment of the USSR's external debts, though its population is 50% of the population of the USSR. The largest state enterprises (petroleum industry, metallurgy etc) were controversially privatized for the small sum of $US 600 million, far less than they were worth.

Russia's Congress of People's Deputies attempted to impeach Yeltsin on 1993-03-26. Yeltsin's opponents gathered more than 600 votes for impeachment, but fell 72 votes short. On 1993-09-21, Yeltsin disbanded the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People's Deputies by decree, which was illegal under the constitution. On September 21 there was a military showdown, the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993. With military help, Yeltsin held control. The conflict resulted in a number of civilian casualties, and was resolved in Yeltsin's favor. Elections were held on 1993-12-12.

Since the Chechnyan separatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war (First Chechen War, Second Chechen War) has been fought between disparate Chechen groups and the Russian military. Some of these groups have become increasingly Islamist over the course of the struggle. It is estimated that over 200,000 people have died in this conflict. Minor conflicts also exist in North Ossetia and Ingushetia.

After Yeltsin's presidency in the 1990s, Vladimir Putin was elected in 2000. Under Putin, the intensified state control of the Russian media has raised Western concerns over Russian civil liberties. At the same time, the rising oil prices, tensions, and war in the Middle East have helped increase Russia's revenue from oil production and export, and have stimulated economic expansion. Putin's presidency has shown improvements in the Russian standard of living, as compared to the 1990s; despite acute crises, human rights abuses, and largely criticised government failures.

In late 2005, Russia increased the price of gas to the Ukraine from $50 to $230 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. After declaring some official protests, Ukraine was forced to accept new conditions and sign a new contract with Gazprom. However, Ukrainian officials see this as punishment from Russia for trying to disocciate itself from Russia, and move further towards the West.

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 Russia is in zones of a continental and Arctic climate. Russia is the coldest country of the world. The mid-annual temperature is −5.5C (22F). For comparison, the mid-annual temperature in Iceland is 1.2C (34F) and in Sweden is 4C (39F).

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. The permafrost (areas of Siberia and the Far East) occupies more than half of territory of Russia. 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 / 17,605 ft) 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.
Flag of Russia
Flag of Russia

Cultural notes about Russia

The culture of Russia is a hybrid one created from the cultures of the nationalities of this multinational state and the result of development over several distinct epochs.

Historically, the dominating position in Russia is occupied by the Russian culture, the culture of Russian language and Russian nationality; this is partly because Russians constitute the vast majority of the population in the country, and partly because many times in the History of Russia the cultures of other nationalities were suppressed through Russification, see for instance Ems Ukase.

The politics of the Soviet Union with respect to culture was controversial: on one side there was a politically-motivated desire to create a "Soviet people", which was expressed in the notion of Soviet culture, exemplified by Socialist Realism. From the other side there were periodical campaigns of preservation of national cultures: every ethnicity had "great national writers" and folk cultural practices were officially supported.

Official Canadian government advisories for travelling to, in and around Russia

You are advised against all travel to the Chechen Republic or the neighbouring North Caucasus region, including North Ossetia, Ingushetia, Dagestan, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya, and Kabardino-Balkariya. Canadians in Chechnya should leave. The security situation is unstable and dangerous. In addition to ongoing conflict in Chechnya, terrorist bombings and kidnappings are common, and Westerners are particularly targeted.

Violent crime has increased. Crime against foreigners is a serious problem. Pickpocketing, assaults, and robberies occur frequently and are often committed by groups of children. Vulnerable areas include underground walkways, subways, tourist sites, restaurants, airports, train stations, and hotel rooms and residences, even when locked and occupied.

Do not accept food or drinks from strangers. Do not leave food or drinks unattended in bars or restaurants. Cases of drugging followed by robbery and assault have occurred.

Extortion and corruption are common in the business environment. Organized criminal groups target foreign businesses and have been known to demand protection money under threat of serious violence. Extortion attempts should be reported to Russian authorities and officials at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow (see below).

Harassment and attacks on foreigners of Asian and African descent have increased. Canadians should exercise extreme caution in crowds and places frequented by skinhead groups, including open markets.

Some areas of the Russian Federation, particularly in Siberia and Eastern Russia, are closed to foreigners unless they have obtained government permission. Check with local authorities if you intend to diverge from commonly travelled routes.

Many Canadians are subject to identity checks by police, particularly when travelling by subway, train, and bus. Failure to provide proper documentation can result in detention or heavy fines. Visas, migration cards, and currency control documents are as important as your passport. Carrying photocopies of these documents is not sufficient and may cause inconvenience and delays if the police demand further identification. Travellers should carry originals of their passport, registered visas, migration card, currency control documents, and any photocopies at all times due to the likelihood of random police checks. Replacing these documents is extremely difficult and can delay return to Canada.
Country Data
Population 143,782,338
Capital City Moscow (Moskva)
Major Cities(s) Moscow, Sankt Peterburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Omsk, Ufa, Chelyabinsk, Kazan
Major Religion(s) Russian Orthodox, Muslim, other
Language Russian (100%)
Physical Size 17,075,200 km²
Land Area 16,995,800 km²
Water Area 79,400 km²