Chapter 7: Russia

Identifying the Boundaries

Russia
Russia

Russia is the largest country in physical area—almost twice the size of the United States.

Size comparison of Russia to the United States
Size comparison of Russia to the United States

The country extends from its European core, where most of the population live, across the Ural Mountains into Siberia and the Russian Far East, where residents have more economic and social connections with China than with Europe. A train journey from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok, the western and eastern termini (final point) of the Trans-Siberian Railway, takes about one week of constant travel.

Map of the Trans-Siberian railway
Map of the Trans-Siberian railway

No paved highways cross the entire country. The main part of Russia is so big that it requires eleven time zones. Russia includes world-class cities such as Moscow, with its many billionaires and famous Red Square; vast territories of the Arctic north; immense forests of Siberia; grain farms rivaling those in Kansas; and mountain communities in the Caucasus.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow
Icy Pechora Sea in Arctic Northwest Russia
Icy Pechora Sea in Arctic Northwest Russia
Cape Stolbchaty
Cape Stolbchaty, Kunashir Island, Kurils Nature Reserve, Russia
Taiga forest at Yugyd Va National Park in the Komi Republic
Caucasus Mountains
Caucasus Mountains
I. Shishkin. "Noon. The surroundings of Moscow. Brattsevo." 1866.
Painting of Russia’s grain fields near Moscow – I. Shishkin. “Noon. The surroundings of Moscow. Brattsevo.” 1866.

Russia has a complicated history of monarchy and totalitarianism, rich natural resources, extremes of wealth and poverty, and a slowly declining population. It is a dynamic country transitioning from a Communist state to part of the global economy.

Russia is located in both Europe and Asia. The Ural Mountains are considered the separation boundary for the two continents.

Russia's mountain ranges
Russia’s mountain ranges

The Asian side of Russia is physically bordered to the south by Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China, with an extremely short border shared with the tip of North Korea.

The Asian side of Russia
The Asian side of Russia

The Amur River creates a portion of the boundary with China.

Amur River watershed
Amur River watershed

In 2008 an agreement was signed to finalize an Amur River border that was disputed between Russia and China:

The Pacific Ocean is to the east with the Bering Strait separating Russia from North America. The Arctic Ocean creates the entire northern boundary of Russia stretching all the way from Norway to Alaska. The Arctic Ocean can be covered with ice for much of the long winter season. Russia is a northern country with the majority of its physical area above the latitude of 50 degrees north. The Arctic Circle runs the entire length through the middle of the northern half of the country.

The Arctic Circle runs through Russia.
The Arctic Circle runs through Russia.

The boundaries of European Russian include its southern border in the Caucasus Mountains with Georgia and Azerbaijan. This portion of Russia protrudes south of 50 degrees latitude. The Caucasus Mountains are the tallest mountain chain in Russia and Europe.

Notice how the Caucasus Mountains create a border for Russia.
Notice how the Caucasus Mountains create a border for Russia.

The Black Sea and the Caspian Sea create natural boundaries on either side of the Caucasus Mountains. The main borders with Eastern Europe include the large countries of Ukraine and Belarus. Farther north, Russia borders Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Norway. European Russia is much smaller than its Asian counterpart but is the dominant core area for the country anchored by the capital city of Moscow.

Eastern Russia
Eastern Russia

Russia covers a HUGE area, so we will break down the specific regions and look at them over the next few pages. In the meantime, here are some things Russia is famous for as well as little pieces of its culture:

Caviar
Caviar
Tha papakha is a wool hat worn by Russians in the Caucasus.
Tha papakha is a wool hat worn by Russians in the Caucasus.
The Russian Blue is a cat breed that originated in Russia.
The Russian Blue is a cat breed that originated in Russia.
Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space
Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space
Tetris was designed by Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov.
Tetris was designed by Russian software engineer Alexey Pajitnov.
Fabergé eggs are jeweled eggs created by the House of Fabergé, in St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia.
Fabergé eggs are jeweled eggs created by the House of Fabergé, in St. Petersburg, Imperial Russia.
Matryoshka dolls nest inside of each other. The first set was made in Russia in 1890.
Matryoshka dolls nest inside of each other. The first set was made in Russia in 1890.

Russian cuisine derives its varied character from the vast and multi-ethnic expanse of Russia. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, pork, poultry, caviar, mushrooms, berries, and honey. There are so many different ethnic groups in Russia with their own food traditions, so I’ll just cover some of the “stereotypical” Russian food in the pictures below.

Borscht
Borscht is a sour soup made from beets garnished with sour cream.
Beef stroganoff features sauteed pieces of beef, mushrooms, and sour cream.
Beef stroganoff features sauteed pieces of beef, mushrooms, and sour cream.
Chicken Kiev
Chicken Kiev is a stuffed and breaded chicken breast
Dark rye bread

Traditional Russian costume consists of straight, flowing lines. The sarafan is a long, Russian jumper dress worn by girls and women. They originally had a tighter form but became wider through the influence of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Russia’s large number of ethnic groups have distinctive traditions regarding folk music. Folk music had a significant influence on Russian classical composers, including Tchaikovsky, a Russian composer of the Romantic period. Tchaikovsky is famous for composing the music for the ballets The Nutcracker and Swan Lake.

Tchaikovsky – Waltz of the Flowers

If you love books, you may want to check out these novels set in Russia:

The Bear and the Nightingale: A Novel

Winter lasts most of the year at the edge of the Russian wilderness, and in the long nights, Vasilisa and her siblings love to gather by the fire to listen to their nurse’s fairy tales. Above all, Vasya loves the story of Frost, the blue-eyed winter demon. Wise Russians fear him, for he claims unwary souls, and they honor the spirits that protect their homes from evil.

Then Vasya’s widowed father brings home a new wife from Moscow. Fiercely devout, Vasya’s stepmother forbids her family from honoring their household spirits, but Vasya fears what this may bring. And indeed, misfortune begins to stalk the village.

But Vasya’s stepmother only grows harsher, determined to remake the village to her liking and to groom her rebellious stepdaughter for marriage or a convent. As the village’s defenses weaken and evil from the forest creeps nearer, Vasilisa must call upon dangerous gifts she has long concealed—to protect her family from a threat sprung to life from her nurse’s most frightening tales.

The Wolf Wilder

Feo’s life is extraordinary. Her mother trains domesticated wolves to be able to fend for themselves in the snowy wilderness of Russia, and Feo is following in her footsteps to become a wolf wilder. She loves taking care of the wolves, especially the three who stay at the house because they refuse to leave Feo, even though they’ve already been wilded. But not everyone is enamored with the wolves, or with the fact that Feo and her mother are turning them wild. And when her mother is taken captive, Feo must travel through the cold, harsh woods to save her—and learn from her wolves how to survive.

Outline of Russia’s Historical Geography

Now that we’ve looked at an overview of Russia, let’s take a quick tour of Russia’s long history. I’ll make things easy on you by summing it up with this outline and a 10-minute video 😊:

  1. The Region’s Early Heritage
    • Vikings created fortified trading towns called gorods
    • Genghis Khan’s Mongol Empire invaded (1240 CE)
    • Feudal states arose around dominant trading centers
  2. Czarist Russia, 1547–1917
    • Czars unified empire by internal colonialism
    • Forward capital of St. Petersburg created
    • Pioneers pushed eastward to Siberia and North America
  3. Bolshevik Revolution, 1917–22
    • Czar Nicholas II and his family executed
    • Russian Civil War fought
    • Vladimir Lenin created Communist imperial state
    • Capital moved to Moscow; republics broke away
  4. The Soviet Union (USSR), 1922–91
    • Czarist Empire became the Soviet Union
    • Central planning, collectivization, and the Cold War began
    • Republics kept together by military force
    • External interaction of glasnost initiated (1980s)
    • Economic restructuring and reforms of perestroika introduced (1980s)
  5. The Russian Republic, 1991–Present
    • Independent republics lost with internal unrest
    • Economics privatized
    • Democracy introduced (1990s)
    • Central state strengthened (twenty-first century)
History of Russia in 10 Minutes | The Animated Russian History in a Nutshell

We want to know what you thought of what you just read and watched! Leave us a comment! Please also let us know if a link or video isn’t working. 🙂

Next: 7.1 Regions: Core and the Eastern Frontier

Image and additional information credits for Chapter 7:

Russia map
https://www.freeworldmaps.net/about.html
Russia info
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia
Russia size comparison map
By Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). – Map from CIA World Factbook, 2015., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64316843
Trans-Siberian railway
By Stefan Ertmann & Lokal Profil – :wmc:Map_of_Russia_-_Time_Zones.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22748147
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
By Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15824660
Tiaga forest
By xndr – Я автор этого фото, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5925502
Northern Asia map
By unknown, cut and additions by Ulamm 12:25, 18 April 2008 (UTC) – Via en:Image:Asia-map.png: cropped from https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/reference_maps/pdf/asia.pdf, rendered at 250% magnification in Acrobat Reader —Veliath 18:21, 17 August 2006 (UTC), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3900410
Caucasus
By © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78975685
Russian arctic
By Envisat satellite – http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2008/03/Arctic_Northwest_Russia, CC BY-SA 3.0-igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56883804
Painting
By Ivan Shishkin – artchive.ru, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76574453
Cape Stolbchaty
By Екатерина Васягина – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69960916
Amur River
By Kmusser – Own work using Digital Chart of the World and GTOPO data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6077796
Disputed area
By Insider – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12267766
Topographic map of the Caucasus
By Bourrichon – fr:Bourrichon) – Own work ;Topographic data from the NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) (public domain) edited with 3DEM, reprojected in UTM with GDAL (GDAL), and vectorized with Inkscape ; UTM projection ; WGS84 datum ; shaded relief (composite image of N-W, W and N lightning positions) ;Reference used for the additional data :* Rivers, bathymetry : Demis add-on for World Wind (see the approval e-mail and the Demis forum) ;* coast : World data bank II ;Approximate scale of topographic data : 1:1,463,000 ;Note : The shaded relief is a raster image embedded in the SVG file., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5160199|
Caucasus Mountains map and Eastern Russia cities map and Russia physical map- Usage terms: https://www.freeworldmaps.net/about.html
Asia region map
By Cacahuate, amendments by Peter Fitzgerald, Globe-trotter, Joelf, and Texugo – Own work based on the blank world map, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22746259
European/Russian Plain
By PM / P – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5114637
Murmansk
By Separation51 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29439369
Volga River map
CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1122527
Ural Mountains
By ugraland [1] – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ugra/448118784/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3651439
Volga delta
By NASA – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa2explore/48139665557/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80624490
Kuzbas coal mining
By Rvetal – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7600976
Vladivostok collagehttps://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10882980
Mt. Elbrus
By LxAndrew – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23286171
Chechnya
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53725
Grozny
By Rasul70 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29712102
Ethnic groups in the Caucasus
By I, Pmx, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2430263
Grozny apartments
By Michal Vogt [1] from Warsaw, Poland – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2182389
Lake Baikal map
By Kmusser – Own work using Digital Chart of the World and GTOPO data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4792956
Traditional dress Georgians
By ritingon – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ritingonthewall/1577238983/in/set-72157602059123702/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2940525
Georgia map
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32738325
Armenia map
By 517design – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84985541
Mt. Ararat
By Սէրուժ Ուրիշեան (Serouj Ourishian) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32500984
Russian cuisine
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_cuisine
Borscht
By liz west from Boxborough, MA – borscht served, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18741185
Chicken Kiev
By Jason Lam – https://www.flickr.com/photos/mesohungry/4872466163/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26185222
beef stroganoff
By jgodsey – https://www.flickr.com/photos/jgodsey/3114731942/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5779011
Rye bread
By Glane23 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4686074
Caviar
By Arnaud 25 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=75283265
ten ruble coin
By Numizmat 675 – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11976475
Papakha
By Russian school Unknown artist – https://www.flickr.com/photos/hauksven/6972741819/in/photostream/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53488222
Tetris
By Cezary Tomczak, Maxime Lorant – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38787773
Russian Blue cat
By Volatilde – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=870240
Faberge egg
By House of Fabergé – Walters Art Museum: Home page  Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18844657
Matryoshka dolls
By Maxim75 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11387709
Russian traditional dress
By Лобачев Владимир – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23606013
Sarafan info
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sarafan

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