Russia, a huge country that stretches over a vast expanse of eastern Europe and northern Asia. Once the preeminent republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.; commonly known as the Soviet Union).
Russia became an independent country after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
The Cathedral of the Resurrection of Christ (commonly known as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood) is illuminated at night in St. Petersburg,
Russia is a land of superlatives. By far the world’s largest country, it covers nearly twice the territory of Canada, the second largest. It spans 11 time zones and incorporates a great range of environments and landforms, from deserts to semiarid steppes to deep forests and Arctic tundra.
Russia contains Europe’s longest river, the Volga, and its largest lake, Ladoga. It also is home to the world’s deepest lake, Baikal, and the country recorded the world’s lowest temperature outside the North and South poles.
The inhabitants are quite diverse. Most are ethnic Russians, but there also are more than 120 other ethnic groups present, speaking many languages and following disparate religious and cultural traditions.
Most of the Russian population is concentrated in the European portion of the country, especially in the fertile region surrounding Moscow, the capital. Moscow and St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) are the two most important cultural and financial centres in Russia and are among the most picturesque cities in the world.
Russians are also populous in Asia, however; beginning in the 17th century, and particularly pronounced throughout much of the 20th century, a steady flow of ethnic Russians and Russian-speaking people moved eastward into Siberia, where cities such as Vladivostok and Irkutsk now flourish.
Russia’s climate is extreme, with forbidding winters that have several times famously saved the country from foreign invaders. Although the climate adds a layer of difficulty to daily life, the land is a generous source of crops and materials, including vast reserves of oil, gas, and precious metals.
That richness of resources has not translated into an easy life for most of the country’s people, however; indeed, much of Russia’s history has been a grim tale of the very wealthy and powerful few ruling over a great mass of their poor and powerless compatriots. Serfdom endured well into the modern era; the years of Soviet communist rule (1917–91), especially the long dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, saw subjugation of a different and more exacting sort.
Russia is bounded to the north and east by the Arctic and Pacific oceans, and it has small frontages in the northwest on the Baltic Sea at St. Petersburg and at the detached Russian oblast (region) of Kaliningrad (a part of what was once East Prussia annexed in 1945), which also abuts Poland and Lithuania. To the south it has borders with North Korea, China, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia. To the west/southwest it borders Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as Finland and Norway.