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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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 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.
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.
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