Russia, officially known as the Russian Federation, is the world’s largest country in terms of land mass, and one of the ten most populous countries in the world. It is located in both Europe and Asia, with the Ural mountains most often viewed as the border between the continents; approximately three quarters of Russia’s landmass is east of the Urals, in Asia. Despite this, the country is broadly considered to be politically and culturally European, as roughly three quarters of the population live west of the Urals, in Europe. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are in the west and are the two largest cities in Russia; Moscow is the nation’s capital, while Saint Petersburg is considered as the country’s cultural capital (although it was the official capital between 1712 and 1918). Much of Russia's landmass is taken up by the the vast region of Siberia, which stretches from the Urals to the Pacific, and includes a large part of the Arctic desert and Taiga biome, as well as the Lena, Russia's longest river.
A brief history
The country’s name is derived from the Rus, a (presumably) Nordic people who migrated to Eastern Europe in the ninth century, and eventually established a state that stretched across much of northeastern Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, before it fell to the Mongols in the 13thcentury. The vast size of the country means that the many regions of present-day Russia have been inhabited by a large number of ethnic groups and cultures throughout history, with European Slavs and nomadic Turkic groups having the largest presence. Russian unification largely occurred under Ivan the Great, who saw the Grand Duchy of Moscow gain its independence from the Mongols in 1480, during a time of significant expansion. The Tsardom of Russia, followed by the Russian Empire, quickly became the largest territory in Europe and Asia, but maintained a certain level of isolation from other European powers that contributed to its comparative underdevelopment throughout history. Nonetheless, its size and influence saw it begin to challenge Europe’s other powers in the 19th century, most notably with victory over Napoleon, the annexation of Central Asia, and numerous conflicts with the Ottomans; and the Emancipation Reform of 1861 was the most significant development for the Russian population, where upwards of 23 million people were granted their freedom. Industrialization also began during this time, but progress was slow in comparison to other European countries, and the slow mechanization of agriculture, alongside the prevalence of food shortages, droughts and famine, also hindered development.
The 1900s was where Russia emerged as a global superpower, and life changed most rapidly in this period, however this century also brought many challenges. As Europe’s monarchies were gradually replaced by parliaments, Russia’s Tsars refused to relinquish the same level of power; this, combined with factors such as heavy losses in the First World War, food shortages, unequal wealth distribution, and public dissatisfaction, eventually saw workers’ strikes lead to the Russian Revolution in 1917. Over the next few years, Russia prematurely withdraw from the First World War, the Tsar was overthrown and executed, and a provisional government was established, but then overthrown by the Bolsheviks in the October Revolution. This led to a bloody civil war between various groups, that took upwards of ten million lives (although exact figures remain unclear). The Marxist Bolsheviks (Reds), under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin, emerged victorious against the anti-communist White movement and its allies by 1923, and the Soviet Union (USSR) was established as the world’s first socialist state in 1922, with power was centralized in Russia (the largest of the Soviet Socialist States).
The USSR was formally dissolved on December 26, 1991. 15 new independent states then emerged, with the Russian Federation as the largest and de facto successor to the Soviet Union. The 1990s then marked a period of further economic decline, as the transition to democracy and capitalism proved tumultuous; crime and corruption were rampant, hyperinflation led to a stock market crash in 1998, and Boris Yeltsin, Russia’s president who oversaw this transition, was forced to resign in late 1999. Under the leadership of the new president, Vladimir Putin, the Russian economy stabilized in the 2000s, largely driven by its energy sector. Russia’s international integration has taken many forms since the millennium; its diplomatic relations with Europe and the U.S. have fluctuated, although it remains a major supplier of natural resources to these regions. Russia’s relations with other former-Soviet states has also varied; most of these countries’ economies are dependent on trade with Russia, but attempts to strengthen ties with the west are usually met with resistance. The most notable cases of this were Russia’s military involvement in Georgia in 2008, and its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Western sanctions after 2014 saw Russia’s ties with the west deteriorate, as it was removed from the G8 group and its economy fell into a recession. Ties between the BRICS countries have arguably become Russia’s most beneficial international relationships, as this bloc now presents challenges the international influence of the G7 countries. Demographically, there are many challenges facing Russian society today, such as an ageing population, a low fertility rate, and a ten year gap between life expectancies for men and women. Additionally, the government has grown increasingly autocratic under Putin, and censorship has risen as the law becomes more restrictive. The most immediate concern for the people of Russia, however, is its current war Ukraine: more information regarding the war can be found here.
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