Russia – the largest country on earth in terms of surface area – emerged from a decade of post-Soviet economic and political turmoil to reassert itself as a world power.
Official Name: Russian Federation
Form of Government: Federation
Official Language: Russian
Area: 6,592,772 square miles (17,075,200 square kilometers)
Major Mountain Ranges: Ural, Altay
Major Rivers: Amur, Irtysh, Lena, Ob, Volga, Yenisey
Russia, the largest country in the world, occupies one-tenth of all the land on Earth. It spans 11 time zones across two continents (Europe and Asia) and has coasts on three oceans (the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic).
The Russian landscape varies from desert to frozen coastline, tall mountains to giant marshes. Much of Russia is made up of rolling, treeless plains called steppes. Siberia, which occupies three-quarters of Russia, is dominated by sprawling pine forests called taigas.
Russia has about 100,000 rivers, including some of the longest and most powerful in the world. It also has many lakes, including Europe’s two largest: Ladoga and Onega. Lake Baikal in Siberia contains more water than any other lake on Earth.
As big as Russia is, it’s no surprise that it is home to a large number of ecosystems and species. Its forests, steppes, and tundras provide habitat for many rare animals, including Asiatic black bears, snow leopards, polar bears, and small, rabbit-like mammals called pikas.
Russia’s first national parks were set up in the 19th century, but decades of unregulated pollution have taken a toll on many of the country’s wild places. Currently, about one percent of Russia’s land area is protected in preserves, known as zapovedniks.
Russia’s most famous animal species is the Siberian tiger, the largest cat in the world. Indigenous to the forests of eastern Russia, these endangered giants can be 10 feet (3 meters) long, not including their tail, and weigh up to 600 pounds (300 kilograms).
PEOPLE AND CULTURE
There are about 120 ethnic groups in Russia who speak more than a hundred languages. Roughly 80 percent of Russians trace their ancestry to the Slavs who settled in the country 1,500 year
s ago. Other major groups include Tatars, who came with the Mongol invaders, and Ukrainians.
Russia is known all over the world for its thinkers and artists, including writers like Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, composers such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and ballet dancers including Rudolf Nureyev.
President: Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin has been Russia’s dominant political figure since his election as president in 2000, serving two terms and then a four-year stint as prime minister, before resuming the presidency in 2012.
Since his re-election against only token opposition, Russia’s authorities have further tightened control over the media, muffled an embryonic opposition movement, and adopted a stridently nationalist and anti-Western course at home and abroad to shore up domestic support, in contrast to a previous emphasis on stability and prosperity.
The president presents himself as a strong leader who took Russia out of the economic, social and political crisis of the 1990s and defends Russia’s national interests, particularly against what he portrays as Western to corner Russia and foist its cultural values on it.
Some key dates in Russia’s history:
1552-56 – Grand Prince Ivan the Terrible of Moscow conquers the Tatar khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan and establishes the Tsardom of Russia.
1689-1725 – Peter the Great introduces far-reaching reforms.
1798-1815 – Russia takes part in the European coalitions against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, defeating Napoleon’s invasion in 1812 and contributing to his overthrow.
1853-57 – Russia suffers setback in attempt to seize territory from declining Ottoman Empire through its defeat in Crimean War.
1904-05 – Russian expansion in Manchuria leads to war with Japan – and the 1905 revolution, which forced Tsar Nicholas II to grant a constitution and establish a parliament, the Duma.
1914 – Russian-Austrian rivalry in Balkans contributes to outbreak of First World War, in which Russia fought alongside Britain and France.
1917 – Nicholas II abdicates. Bolshevik revolutionaries led by Lenin topple the provisional government and take power.
1918-22 – Civil war between Red Army and anti-communist White Russians.
1922 – Bolsheviks reorganise remnants of Russian Empire as Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
1945 – Allied victory over Nazi Germany followed by swift establishment of Soviet hegemony in Central and Eastern Europe, and Balkans. The end of the war sees the start of decades of Cold War rivalry between USSR and the West.
1953 – Death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin ushers in less repressive rule at home, although Communist Party political dominance is firmly upheld.
1991 – Russia becomes independent as the Soviet Union collapses and, together with Ukraine and Belarus, forms the Commonwealth of Independent States, which is eventually joined by all former Soviet republics except the Baltic states.
2014 – Russia seizes Ukrainian region of Crimea, prompting the biggest East-West showdown since the Cold War.