Russia - Geography
Russia (the Russian Federation) spans almost half the globe from east to west and about 4,000 kilometers from north to south. Divided into eleven time zones, Russia is by far the world's largest country. It occupies much of Eastern Europe and northern Asia. The country's terrain is diverse, with extensive stands of forest, numerous mountain ranges, and vast plains.
On and below the surface of the land are extensive reserves of natural resources that provide the nation with enormous potential wealth. Russia ranks sixth in the world in population, trailing China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. The population is as varied as the terrain. Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians) are the most numerous of the more than 100 European and Asiatic nationalities.
The Ural Mountains, which extend more than 2,200 kilometers from north to south, form the boundary separating the unequal European and Asian sectors of Russia. The continental divide continues another 1,375 kilometers from the southern end of the Ural Mountains through the Caspian Sea and along the Caucasus Mountains. Asian Russia is about as large as China and India combined, occupying roughly three-quarters of the nation's territory. But it is the European western quarter that is home to more than 75 percent of Russia's inhabitants. This acutely uneven distribution of human and natural resources is a striking feature of Russian geography and population.
Despite government attempts to settle people in sparsely populated Asian areas abundant in resources, this imbalance persists. Meanwhile, depletion of water and fuel resources in the European part outpaces exploitation of resource-rich Siberia, the famously forbidding land stretching from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean. From 1970 to 1989, the campaign to settle and exploit western Siberia's plentiful fuel and energy supplies was expensive and only partially successful. Since glasnost, revelations of extreme environmental degradation have tarnished the image of the Siberian development program.
Russia's topography includes the world's deepest lake and Europe's highest mountain and longest river. The topography and climate, however, resemble those of the northernmost portion of the North American continent. The northern forests and the plains bordering them to the south find their closest counterparts in the Yukon Territory and in the wide swath of land extending across most of Canada. The terrain, climate, and settlement patterns of Siberia are similar to those of Alaska and Canada.
Located in the northern and middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, most of Russia is much closer to the North Pole than to the equator. Individual country comparisons are of little value in gauging Russia's enormous size (slightly less than twice that of the United States) and diversity. The country's 17.1 million square kilometers include one-eighth of the earth's inhabited land area. Its European portion, which occupies a substantial part of continental Europe, is home to most of Russia's industrial and agricultural activity. It was here, roughly between the Dnepr River and the Ural Mountains, that the Russian Empire took shape after the principality of Muscovy gradually expanded eastward to reach the Pacific Ocean in the seventeenth century.
Russia extends about 9,000 kilometers from westernmost Kaliningrad Oblast, the now-isolated region cut off from the rest of Russia by the independence of Belarus, Latvia, and Lithuania, to Ratmanova Island (Big Diomede Island) in the Bering Strait. This distance is roughly equivalent to the distance from Edinburgh, Scotland, east to Nome, Alaska. Between the northern tip of the Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya to the southern tip of the Republic of Dagestan on the Caspian Sea is about 3,800 kilometers of extremely varied, often inhospitable terrain.
Extending for 57,792 kilometers, the Russian border is the world's longest—and, in the post-Soviet era, a source of substantial concern for national security. Along the 20,139-kilometer land frontier, Russia has boundaries with fourteen countries. New neighbors are eight countries of the near abroad—Kazakstan in Asia, and, in Europe, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, and Azerbaijan. Other neighbors include the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), China, Mongolia, Poland, Norway, and Finland. And, at the far northeastern extremity, eighty-six kilometers of the Bering Strait separate Russia from a fifteenth neighbor—the United States.
Approximately two-thirds of the frontier is bounded by water. Virtually all of the lengthy northern coast is well above the Arctic Circle; except for the port of Murmansk, which receives the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, that coast is locked in ice much of the year. Thirteen seas and parts of three oceans — the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific — wash Russian shores.
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