Russia country overview

Geography, People, Culture, and Economic Profile

Russia information index

Russia summary

Learn about the ethnic groups, the Highlands, and the culture of Russia

The Russian Federation is a sovereign state that spans a considerable portion of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. As the most prominent constituent of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), commonly known as the Soviet Union, Russia emerged as an independent nation following the Soviet Union’s dissolution in December 1991.

The Russian Federation is unparalleled in its scale, holding the status of the largest country in the world, and occupying a territory nearly double that of Canada, the second-largest nation. It stretches across the entirety of Northern Asia and a significant portion of Eastern Europe, covering 11 time zones and featuring a diverse array of ecosystems and geographical features. These include deserts, semi-arid steppes, dense forests, and the Arctic tundra. Russia is home to the Volga, the longest river in Europe, as well as Lake Ladoga, the continent’s largest lake. Additionally, it boasts Lake Baikal, recognized as the deepest lake globally, and has recorded the lowest temperature on Earth outside of the polar regions.

The city of St. Petersburg is a notable Russian metropolis. Among its architectural marvels is the Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ, also known as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. This landmark is particularly striking when illuminated at night in the city of St. Petersburg.

Russia’s demographic landscape is characterized by its diversity, with ethnic Russians forming the majority of the population amidst over 120 distinct ethnic groups. These groups speak various languages and adhere to a wide range of religious beliefs and cultural practices. The majority of Russia’s inhabitants reside in the European part of the country, particularly in the region around Moscow, the nation’s capital, which is a hub of fertility and activity. Moscow, along with St. Petersburg, represents the most significant cultural and financial centers in Russia, both cities renowned for their scenic beauty. The Asian part of Russia has also seen a significant Russian presence, with a historical eastward migration that began in the 17th century and notably increased during the 20th century. This movement has led to the development of thriving cities in Siberia, such as Vladivostok and Irkutsk.

The Russian Federation experiences a formidable climate, characterized by harsh winters that have historically protected the nation from invasions. Despite the climatic challenges, Russia is endowed with a plethora of natural resources, including extensive oil and gas reserves, as well as valuable minerals. Nonetheless, the wealth generated from these resources has not resulted in widespread prosperity. Russian history is marked by a stark divide between a minority of affluent and influential individuals and a vast majority of impoverished and disenfranchised citizens. The institution of serfdom persisted into the contemporary period, and the Soviet era, particularly under Joseph Stalin’s rule, was characterized by oppressive governance.

Following the 1917 Russian Revolution, the Russian republic was formed and later became a founding member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1922. As a key figure in post-World War II global politics, Russia engaged in the Cold War against the United States. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 led to Russia’s participation in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The transition from communism brought significant political and economic upheavals, including the emergence of a burgeoning middle class. Yet, the country faced a struggling economy, rampant inflation, and social issues that adversely affected life expectancy. Despite these challenges, Russia has demonstrated potential to reassert itself as a global power, echoing the sentiment of 19th-century Austrian diplomat Klemens von Metternich: “Russia is never as strong as she appears, and never as weak as she appears.”

Russia’s cultural legacy is rich and diverse, with contributions to literature, music, and the sciences that predate the revolution. Cultural icons such as Anton Chekhov, Aleksandr Pushkin, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolay Gogol, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky have left an indelible mark on world heritage. Post-revolutionary Russia saw the emergence of influential figures like Maxim Gorky, Boris Pasternak, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in literature, and Dmitry Shostakovich and Sergey Prokofiev in music. The late Soviet and post-Soviet periods have rekindled interest in previously censored artists, including poets Vladimir Mayakovsky and Anna Akhmatova, while also introducing new talents such as novelist Victor Pelevin and journalist Tatyana Tolstaya, who captures the spirit of the Russian people through her literary work.

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