Geography of the Russia


The Russian Federation, or Russia (until 25 December 1991 officially known as the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic -- RSFSR), constituted the major part of the USSR, providing some 76% of its area and some 51% of its population in 1990. It is an immense country, with approximately 17 million sq. km (6.6 million square miles) of land area which is slightly more than 1.8 times the size of the US.


In the north-west, it is bounded by Norway, Finland, Estonia and Latvia, and by Belarus and Ukraine to the west. The southern borders of Europian Russia are with the Black Sea, Georgia, Azerbaijan, the Caspian Sea and Kazakhstan. The Siberian and Far Eastern regions have southern frontiers with the People's Republic of China, Mongolia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The eastern coastline is on the Sea of Japan, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Pacific Ocean and the Barents Sea. The northern coastline is on the Arctic Ocean.


Despite its few mountain ranges, massed around the edge of the territory, Russia is mainly characterized by its perfectly flat stretches of plain and plateau. Five times the size of France, the "Russian Tableland" between the Byelorussian frontier and the Ural mountains varies in altitude by only 300 meters (1000 feet), and the difference between the highest and lowest points is less than 500 meters (1667 feet).

To the east of Urals, lies Western Siberia, a perfect plain where the Ob river and the Irtysh flow for 2000 km (1240 miles) with a drop in level of less than 200 meters (667 ft). Eastern Siberia has a more varied configuration: it consists of tiers of plateau within which the rivers have cut gorges several hundred meters deep.


The climate ranges from steppes in the south through humid continental in much of European Russia to subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north. The average temperature in Moscow in July is 19 degrees C (66 degr. F); the average for January is -9 degrees C (15 degr. F). Average annual precipitation in the capital is 575 mm.

Russia Is A Northern Country

In the north, Russia is boardered on a coastline of more than 6,200 km (3844 miles) by seas that are frozen for half the year. In western Europe, where the climate is tempered by the Atlantic Ocean, the uppermost limit of continuously occupied land is usually considered to lie along the 60th parallel. In North America habitation stops at much earlier point: Quebec, known as an austere city with very hard winters, is situated on the 47th parallel. Yet, of the 6.6 million square miles in Russia, more than 2.7 million lie north of the 60th parallel.

Russia Is A Continental Country

Its distance from the sea deprives it of the maritime influences that temper extreme climates. Shut off from Atlantic by the Scandinavia mountain ranges and the land mass of western and central Europe, Russia is in much the same situation as the Canadian prairie. In this respect, Russia has a much closer resemblance to North America than to Western Europe.

Russia Is A Dry Country

The Russian plain has a rainfall of less than 500 mm, and Siberia less than 400. Fortunately a feature of the continental climate is that the growing period coincides with the wet season.

The continuously populated land under permanent cultivation lies between the frozen wastes where the subsoil is permanently frozen to a depth of 1 to 1.5 feet from the surface (permafrost) and the desert where in summer everything is burned up.


The cold desert of the tundra, in the very north of Russia, covers an area several hundred kilometers wide. There is practically no vegetation in this area except for some bulbs and rhizomes coming out of their hibernation during the two to three weeks of summer. A few bushes and small trees appear mainly along the river banks.

Farther south is the great forest of the North, the taiga, covering 7 million square kilometers (4.34 million sq. mi.) -- nearly one-third of the total area of Russia. To the west, in the area with the greatest rainfall, it consists of conifers and birches which are succeeded by various deciduous trees: oak, horn beam, maple, lime with a fairly thick undergrowth. But east of Urals the forest is entirely coniferous (except for the birch, the only deciduous tree that can stand the sub-arctic winter).


Russia covers an area of 6.6 million square miles yet has a population of only 148 million (July 1992). The situation and unproductiveness of the land explain this apparent underpopulation. In fact, Russia is in on the fringe of the habitable world. When necessary, life can be endured in the frozen regions or the steppes, with their bitterly cold winds in winter and unbearably dry heat in summer. But more than nine tenths of the population live on cultivable land covering slightly less than a quarter of the total area.

At present, there is a continuous decline in the birth rate which was about 15 per thousand in 1992, down from 16.9 in 1984. At the same time, there has been an increase in the death rate: about 11 per thousand in 1992, up from 10.7 in 1989. These trends are expected to persist as the living conditions continue to deteriorate for the majority of the population.
Density and Distribution
Since two-thirds of Russia's territory is practically uninhabitable, the population density of Russia as a whole is meaningless. Calculated on the basis of the arable area (about 5 million sq km), the density is about 50 people to the square kilometers. Nearly half of this population is rural and directly linked with the agricultural economy.

About half of the population is concentrated in the historic lands of Eastern Slavs on about 7 percent of the entire territory between the Gulf of Finland, the Volga region, and the Central Asia.

In the last 50 years, the Urals and Western Siberia have gained about 30 million inhabitants (most of this migration occurred in the World War II when the defense and heavy industries were evacuated farther east to avoid the Nazi occupation). The Far East, where from 1993 efforts were made to settle enough people to stem a possible Japanese invasion from Manchuria, has received slightly more than 2 million inhabitants, bringing its population to about four and a half million.


Transport is a field of prime importance in Russia given the immense extent of the country. The railways represent by far the largest part of the internal transport system. The roads and rivers each carry 5% of the total, coastal shipping 10%, oil pipelines 4%, the airlines under 1%.

Russian railways have inherited from Tsarism a system of larger gauge than the railway of Western Europe (1.542 m vs. 1.435). This makes it possible to have heavier trains but involves transfers from one system to the other at the frontiers. The lie of the land, with little in the way of hills facilitates the laying out the railway lines, but the rivers sometimes involve considerable engineering works.

The railway network has a total length of about 100,000 km (62,000 miles), it has doubled since 1913 and is still growing. New lines are being built in Siberia. A new trans-Siberian line connects Krasnoyarsk and the Pacific coast, to the north of the old line.

The roads are of much less importance in economic terms. While the railways cater mainly for long-distance transport (average 800 km), the roads are used for short-distance transport. This is very different from the situation in the Western countries and particular in the U.S., where road transport carries more traffic than the railways.

The network of modern roads (some 600,000 km or 372,000 miles surfaced) is relatively limited for such a large country. The Europian part of Russia is better served in this respect than the Asiatic part. There are good roads from Moscow to St. Petersburg, to the Polish frontier and Ukraine. Elsewhere the roads are often of poor quality, ice-covered in winter, dusty in summer, wet and muddy in spring and fall. For many years the output of motor vehicles in the USSR was small, consisting mainly of trucks. However, as this situation is changing rapidly, the need for much wider network of roads is being recognized.

Navigable Waterways
The navigable waterways have an estimated total length of 140,000 km (86,800 miles), that is the same as railways with only a fifteenth of the traffic. The difficulty is their inconvenient orientation, particularly in Siberia, and the long period (4-7 months) during which they are frozen and therefore are not navigable. They are used mainly for the movement of heavy goods (coal, ore, oil, building materials) and for floating down timber. The first canals were laid out during the Tsarist period, and the network was further developed under the Soviet government: the Moscow-Volga canal, the canal from St. Petersburg to the White Sea, the Volga-Don canal and, most recently, the Volgabalt canal between the upper Volga and the Baltic, which can take ships of up to 2700 tons.
Merchant Navy
The merchant navy, long neglected, has been in process of rapid development since 1950. It is now estimated to have a total tonnage of some 20 million, which would make it the 7th largest in the world. The principal ports are St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, Murmansk, Nakhodka, Arkhangelsk. They seem, however, to be poorly equipped for dealing with ships of large tonnage (of which so far there are none in the Russian merchant navy).
Air Services
Russian air services have a domestic network of about 400,000 km (248,000 miles), together with an international network of 100,000 km (62,000 miles), all served by the state-owned Aeroflot company. They carry mainly mail and passengers but also freight in the less accessible regions of Siberia and the far north. Moscow is the central point from which there are regular services in all directions. After Moscow come St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Kuibyshev, and Novosibirsk.

Russia's Share of the USSR's Forest Resources

The Russian Federation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the former Soviet region) occupies approximately one-seventh of the world's land area and contains nearly one-fourth of the world's timber resources and more than half of all boreal forests. Russian forest land comprises 96 percent of the total forest land of the former Soviet region.

images/letter.gif Feed Back images/snd_eml.gif Send Email images/aglobe.gifOther Forest Related Sites

Back Home