GEOGRAPHY

Russia or the Russian Federation, both terms being synonymous, lies in the east of Europe and in the Northern part of Asia. It has an area of 17,075,400 sq.km. and a population of 147.8 million. The capital of Russia is Moscow.

Its western or European part supports nearly 80 percent of its total population and forms part of Eastern Europe, while its eastern part stretches far beyond the Ural mountaines in Northern Asia. Russia measures over 9,000 km from west to east and between 2,500 to 4,000 km from north to south.

Some 14 percent of Russian territory lies beyond the Arctic Circle, within the perennial permafrost zone, with a long arctic night, which is a fact of life for the numerous archipelagoes and islands of the Arctic Ocean. Russia sprawls across 11 time zones. Its shores are washed by 12 seas of three oceans: the Atlantic (Baltic, Black and Azov seas), the Arctic Ocean (Barents, White, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian and Chukotka), and the Pacific Ocean (Bering, Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan).

CLIMATE

Extending thousands of kilometers from north to south, Russia spans four climatic zones arctic, subarctic, temperate and subtropical. Most of the country's area lies in a temperate continental climate with a long cold and snowy winter and a relatively short warm summer. The continental character of the climate grows more rigorous in Siberia and the northern districts of the Far East, which have a pronounced continental climate that makes the weather generally quite severe, with wide differences between the seasonal and daily temperatures and a thick bed of permafrost under the topsoil. The absolute minimum temperature of -71 degrees C has been registered in the Oimyakon mountain depression, a short distance from Verkhoyansk, in East Siberia, rightly ranked among the coldest places of the Northern Hemisphere.

Russia's western and eastern fringes which are fully exposed to the effect of oceans and their seas have three types of ocean affected climate: marine, transitional, which is actually a continental variety with different extents of sea influence (in the northwest), and monsoon climate (south of the Russian Far East). The islands and the mainland littoral of the Arctic Ocean have a severe arctic and subarctic climate. At the opposite end, the resort belt on the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, from Tuapse to Anapa, boasts a subtropical climate, with a warm and moist winter and a dry and hot summer. The mean daily temperatures of January across the whole of Russia, except for the Black Sea coast of the Caucasus, are below zero centigrade, ranging from -1 to -5 degrees C in the west of Russia's European part to -50 degrees C in Yakutia. The summer temperatures, too, differ sharply between the north and south of Russia, from the mean +1 degree C in the north of Siberia to +25 degrees C on the Caspian Lowland.

The rainfall is the most plentiful (up to 2,000 mm a year) on the mountain slopes of the Caucasus and the Altai, followed by the southern areas of the Russian Pacific coast (up to 1,000 mm), where summer monsoon rains trigger river flooding, and to a lesser extent, the forests of the East European Plain. The most arid spot in Russia is the semidesert sector of the Caspian Lowland, with its meager 150 mm of rainfall a year.

MINERALS

Russia has numerous oil and gas fields in operation, many of which have been gathered by Nature in huge oil and gas bearing clusters. The country's biggest oil and gas region, West Siberia, comprises the whole of the Tyumen Region, parts of the Tomsk, Novosibirsk and Omsk regions, and a portion of the Krasnoyarsk Territory. Over 300 oil and gas fields have been developed here.

Next in importance comes coal, which is mined in the Pechora basin, with its 30 major operating coal fields, and the Moscow basin, which, according to the exploration data, contains nearly 4 billion tons of lignites, in the European part. Further east lies the Kuznetsk coal basin, one of the country's biggest and most important sources of coal, in terms of reserves, seam thickness and coal quality. Other giant sources of coals and lignites are located in the Tunguska River area; between the towns of Kansk and Achinsk, the country's most significant coal basin in terms of prospected reserves (over 80 billion tons), where a quarter of the lignite fields can be developed by strip mining; around the town of Minusinsk, and the major city of Irkutsk, where more than 20 coal fields have been prospected.

Russia gets much of its iron from the ores mined in the so-called Kursk Magnetic Anomaly, which is the country's and the world's biggest concentration of ferruginous quartzites, above 25 billion tons. Other iron ore deposits have been prospected and are now in operation in the Ural area, and in the drainage areas of the Angara-Pit and Angara-Ilim rivers.

Of the manganese ore deposits, the more important ones are situated in the Urals, in Siberia and in the Far East.

Deposits of high-quality bauxites, nephelines and other aluminum-bearing minerals have been explored in the Northern and Southern Ural Mountains. Alumina is produced and aluminum smelted from the apatite-nepheline ores in the Khibini Mountains in the Kola Peninsula. Copper ores are mostly concentrated in the Chita Region, where the large deposit at Udokan is mined for ores containing 0.2 to 4% copper.

Nickel and cobalt ores are developed in the rich Norilsk fields. The bulk of Russia's tin ore deposits is located in Yakutia, on the Chukotka Peninsula (at the Pyrkakai tin ore node), and in the Khabarovsk and Primorie territories, on the Russian Pacific coast. Complex ores are plentiful in the Ore Altai. Vein gold deposits are developed in the Urals (at Berezovskoe) and in Transbaikalia (at Darasun). Some placer gold deposits are mined in East Siberia. Among the non-ore deposits, Russia is rich in phosphorites and apatites in the Kola Peninsula, the Murmansk Region; potassium and rock salts in the Perm and Irkutsk regions; asbestos in the Urals and Tyva; graphite in the Urals and southern Siberia, mica in the Murmansk and Irkutsk regions and in Yakutia. Diamonds are produced in Yakutia and the Urals. Underground thermal waters occur in many of the country's area.

Russia has long been known as a treasure trove of semi-precious stones, or gems.

POPULATION

On January 1, 1996, Russia had a population of 147.8 million.

This country's population is very varied ethnically. Besides Russians, who account for 81.5% of the total, the more significant ethnic groups are the Tatars 3.8%, Ukrainians 3%, Chuvashis 1.2%, Daghestani groups 1.2 %(among them Avarians number 544,000), Bashkirians 0.9%, Belorussians 0.8, and Mordovians 0.7%. The nation's northeastern, central and central black-earth regions are populated mostly by Russians and are, therefore, ethnically more uniform than the other areas. As a general rule, ethnic groups united in their own statehoods live in compact groups within their respective republics, regions and autonomous areas (except for Jews and Evenks). And yet, 70.8% of the Mordovians, 68% of the Tatars, and 49.6% of the Maris live beyond the borders of their ethnic republics.

Over the last thirty years, the growth rates of some ethnic groups in Russia have differed substantially from the average population growth rates and Russians, in particular. The native population of the Northern Caucasus has more than doubled, and so have the numbers of Tyvinians and Gypsies. The Buriatians, Yakutians and Kalmyks have grown by 60 to 70% each. High growth rates have been registered by ethnic groups who have been migrating steadily to Russia from other republics of the former USSR. In particular, between 1959 and 1989, the number of Azeris in Russia has increased 4.7-fold, that of Moldavians, 2.8-fold, Georgians, 2.3-fold, Armenians, 2.1-fold, and Kazakhs, 1.7-fold. In the meantime, the numbers of Karelians and Mordovians have shrunk because of assimilation, and that of Jews has declined through emigration.

Following the collapse of the USSR and the emergence of independent states in its place, a sizable part of the Russian nation, some 25 million people in all, ethnic non-Russian Russian speakers (11.2 million), and members of non-Russian native groups having their roots in Russia, claiming their ethnic languages as their mother tongue, have found themselves beyond Russia's state borders. In particular, the latter group includes over 800,000 Tatars, some 80,000 Bashkirians, dozens of thousands of Chuvashis, Mordovians, Udmurtians, Maris, etc. In all, there are between 37 and 38 million Russian subjects living in the former Soviet republics turned independent states today.

HISTORY

The earliest Russian state, Kievan Rus, arose in the 9th century, with the different Slavonic tribes moulded into the Russian nation within its borders. In the year 988, the young state adopted Christianity.

The state, however, fell apart in the 12th century through the efforts of feuding princes and princelings, who came to rule over their home-turf principalities (and a republic in Novgorod) at Vladimir-Suzdal, Galicia-Volynia, and a host of smaller lands.

With the princes constantly intriguing against one another, the Russian lands failed to pool enough forces together and coordinate their efforts in repelling the invasion by Tatars in the opening decades of the 13th century. The Russians paid the price for their princes' feud with nearly 250 years of life under Tatar control, known in Russian history as the Tatar Yoke, which brought immeasurable suffering and incalculable losses among the population and inflicted tremendous damage on the land's economic, political and cultural development. A crippling blow to the invaders was dealt in 1380 by the united forces of allied Russian lands under Grand Prince Dmitry of Moscow, better known as Dmitry Donskoi in tribute for his resounding victory over the enemy on the Kulikovo Field in the upper reaches of the Don River. Another 100 years were to elapse, however, before the Russians cast off the Yoke.

Between the 14th and 16th centuries, Moscow gathered around it a centralised state that included all Russian lands in the Northeast and Northwest. In historic terms, this was the core of the Great Russian nation.

Early in the 17th century, Russia fought off the Polish-Lithuanian and Swedish intervention, and in mid-century Ukraine wrested itself free from Polish domination to join Russia in a unified and greatly expanded state.

Traditionally introvert and self-reliant, Russia received a powerful boost in political, economic, social and cultural development, including revolutionary reforms in the army, in the reign of Peter the Great, who ruled from the late 17th century into the third decade of the 18th century. The Russian's momentous victories in the Northern War between 1700 and 1721 gave the nation free access to the Baltic sea it had been seeking and fighting for over centuries. The country's bulging muscles and its newly acquired "window to the West", stirred diplomatic activity and closer links between Russia and other countries, particularly in Western Europe.

By pursuing a policy of expansion and development of territories in the North, down the full length of the Volga River, the Ural Mountains and beyond, Siberia and as far as the Pacific coast, with many non-Russian areas joining the dynamic state of their own free will, Russia became a sprawling empire.

In the early 19th century, the Russian Empire stopped and rolled back, to their ultimate end, the armies of the French Emperor Napoleon I in what went down in Russian history as the 1812 Patriotic War.

A watershed in Russian history came in 1861 with the peasant Reform which abolished serfdom, imposed since the late 16th century, and jolted Russia into a tempestuous economic development. In the closing decades of the 19th century, manufacturing burst forth, private business burgeoned, and banking and trade flourished. Also in that period, social disparities were coming to a head and discontent with autocracy was spreading.

The World War of 1914-1918 strained the powers of the Russian economy to the snapping point, and exhausted the country's material and financial resources. The setbacks and blunders on the battlefield tipped the social balances and plunged the nation into a deep crisis.

In October 1917, the Bolsheviks of the Russian Social-Democratic Labour Party under Vladimir Lenin came to power in a revolution that sealed the country's fate for decades ahead. The revolution was purported to eliminate social inequalities and build a socialist society, that was intended, in a longer run, to evolve into communism.

The different republics joined together to form a union, known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the USSR, in December 1922.

Over the next 15 years, the ruling elite under Josef Stalin seized all the reins of power, forcing a totalitarian rule on the country. Millions were repressed. The top brass of the Red Army, the country's armed forces, was ruthlessly purged, sapping the nation's defensive potential. The political terror and lawlessness notwithstanding, the industries were rapidly modernised, the armed forces equipped with latter-day hardware, and industrial construction was launched on a vast scale.

An hour of trial for the nation struck in 1941, when the Soviet Union was attacked by Nazi Germany which had, after almost two years into World War II, most of Europe conquered. The war effort rallied the country to resist the aggression. Within a very short space of time, the country's resources were marshalled to repel the enemy. The gallantry of the fighting men, the skills of their generals, and the all-out effort of the entire nation contributed greatly to Germany's defeat in early May 1945.

The socialist idea peaked in the '60s, and then tumbled down to stagnation and eventual crisis. The country's economy was awash with red ink, hardly managing to trudge along by injections of hard currency earned by mineral exports; it was groaning under the heavy burden of defence expenditure and smarting under the criticism the world markets heaped on it for the uncompetitive quality of its products, especially consumer goods; many constructive initiatives were frowned upon, all aspects of society's life including foreign policy were squeezed into a tight ideological mould and dissidents were persecuted again. All this tied poorly with the trumpeted ideas of a bright future the country was out to build.

In the mid-80s, the country was confronted with the need to launch radical reforms in its economy and social and political structure. Mikhail Gorbachev, the Communist Party's General Secretary who later became the USSR President, led the drive to reform society. However, as new social relations were taking hold, the economy slumped, inflation heated up, the various political forces were locked in confrontation, social tensions rose, and ethnic conflicts erupted.

The agreement signed in the Belaya Vezha forest in Belorussia in mid-1991 by the leaders of several Soviet republics spelled the end of the Soviet Union. Russia became a successor to the Union's assets and liabilities.

Boris Yeltsin was elected the first Russian President. He declared a course for market reforms and new foreign policy of integrating Russia to democratic international institutions.

The pace of the reforms is, however, restrained by such negative factors as the lack of social experience in taking shortcuts to a market-oriented economy, working out new industrial relations, and promoting private business. The social differentiation, the falling living standards for the majority of the population, ethnic problems, and the high crime incidence rate are adding to the acrimony of political fights and fuelling tensions in society.

Despite the hardships experienced by the majority of the population, common sense suggests that there is no alternative to the ongoing reforms. Indeed , they hold a promise of an efficient economy, decent living standards, and chances for self-actualisation. The social reforms in Russia have removed the long-standing reasons for political and ideological confrontation with other countries, eased up military tensions, and given the Russian state an opportunity to join the world economic system and to make a constructive contribution to the development of mutually beneficial and civilised relations between states.

THE CONSTITUTION

On December 12, 1993, the Russian population voted in a referendum to approve a new Constitution that claimed Russia a democratic federal law-abiding state with a republican type of government.

The country's basic law proclaims man and his rights and freedoms to be of supreme value. Human rights and civil liberties are recognised and constitutionally guaranteed, in full conformity with the generally accepted principles and norms of international law.

Human dignity is protected by the state. Everyone has the right to freedom, inviolability of home, person and private life, to personal and family secrecy, and to protection of his honour and good name. Constitutional guarantees are extended to freedom of religion and speech and to the right to obtain and disseminate information. Censorship in whatever form is now banned.

Russian citizens are free to apply their abilities and resources to engage in business. The right to own private property is protected by law. Any economic activity seeking to secure a monopoly and any unfair competition are not allowed under the law.

Everyone is guaranteed social security in old age, in the event of sickness or disability, and loss of breadwinner, and child-raising allowances. Medical aid is free at state-financed and municipal health care institutions. Preschool, basic general and medium-level vocational education at state-funded and municipal institutions and enterprises is free and open to all. Everyone is entitled to receive, on a competitive basis, a higher education at state-run educational institutions. Basic general schooling is mandatory.

A Russian citizen may take out a foreign citizenship (without forfeiting his own) under the relevant federal law or an international treaty signed by Russia. Foreign nationals and persons without citizenship enjoy equal rights and have similar obligations with Russian citizens.

THE PRESIDENT

The titular head of the Russian State is the President, who protects the country's Constitution, human rights and civil liberties, and lays down guidelines for the nation's domestic and foreign policies, in keeping with the Constitution and federal laws.

The President is elected for a term of four years in a general, equal and direct election by secret ballot. The Presidential post can be filled by a Russian citizen at least 35 years of age, who has lived in Russia permanently for at least 10 years. The same person cannot serve as President for more than two terms. With approval of the State Duma, the Lower House of the Federal Assembly, or Parliament, the President appoints the head (chair) of the Federal Government; dismisses the Government, and nominates for approval by the Federation Council, the Upper House of the Parliament, justices of the Federal Constitutional Court, judges of the Higher Court of Arbitration and the Federal Prosecutor General; requests the Federation Council to relieve the Federal Prosecutor General from office; appoints judges of other federal courts; puts together and presides over the Federal Security Council, the status of which is determined by the relevant federal law; approves the military doctrine of the Russian Federation; appoints and relieves top officers of the Federal Armed Forces, of which he is the Commander-in-Chief; calls elections to the State Duma, and has the right to dismiss the State Duma in accordance with the Constitution.

THE FEDERAL ASSEMBLY

The Federal Assembly or the Russian Parliament is a representative and legislative body of the Russian State. It consists of two houses, the Federation Council and the State Duma. The Federation Council contains two representatives from each Federation members, one each from the legislative and executive bodies of power. The State Duma has 450 deputies elected for a term of four years.

The Federation Council approves boundary changes between Federation members and Presidential decrees introducing martial law and state of emergency. This Upper House calls presidential elections, can remove President from office in accordance with the Constitution, appoints justices and judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Higher Court of Arbitration, decides on the advisability of Russia's troops being used beyond Russian borders, etc.

The State Duma is a lawmaking body, takes the vote of confidence with regards the Government, appoints Chair of the Central Bank, declares amnesties, etc.

GOVERNMENT

The Russian Government exercises executive power in the country. It prepares and tables a Federal Budget to the State Duma; submits to the State Duma a report on Federal Budget fulfilment; ensures the pursuit of coordinated financial, credit and monetary policies, a state policy in the fields of culture, science, education, health care, social security and the environment in Russia; controls the federal property; takes steps to maintain the country's defence and state security; carries out foreign policy; undertakes measures to enforce law and order, uphold civil rights and liberties, protect property rights, maintain public order, fight crime.

JUDICIARY

Justice in Russia is administered by courts only. Judges are independent, have immunity and cannot be removed, subject only to the Constitution and the federal law. Court proceedings at all levels are open to the public.

The Constitutional Court handles cases such as compliance with the Federal Constitution of federal laws and regulations made by legislative and executive power bodies, constitutions of the member-republics, statutes and laws adopted by Federation members, and international treaties pending ratification, examines disputes between federal and other power bodies over power sharing, interprets Constitutional provisions, and verifies the constitutionality of new laws.

The Supreme Court of the Russian Federation is the highest judicial body in charge of civil, criminal, administrative and other cases subject to general jurisdiction and exercises judicial supervision over the activities of lower courts.

The High Court of Arbitration is the highest judicial body dealing with economic disputes.

FEDERAL STRUCTURE OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION

The Russian Federation comprises 89 subjects. They are as follows:

21 republics:

the Republic of Adygeya
the Republic of Altai
the Republic of Bashkortostan
the Republic of Buryatia
the Republic of Daghestan
the Ingush Republic
the Kabardino-Balkarian Republic
the Republic of Kalmykia
the Karachayevo-Circassian Republic
the Republic of Karelia
the Komi Republic
the Republic of Marii El
the Republic of Mordovia
the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia)
the Republic of North Ossetia
the Republic of Tatarstan
the Republic of Tuva
the Udmurtian Republic
the Republic of Khakassia
the Chechen Republic
the Chuvash Republic


6 territories:

the Altai Territory
the Krasnodar Territory
the Krasnoyarsk Territory
the Primorie Territory
the Stavropol Territory
the Khabarovsk Territory

49 regions:

the Amur Region
the Archangel Region
the Astrakhan Region
the Belgorod Region
the Bryansk Region
the Vladimir Region
the Volgograd Region
the Vologda Region
the Voronezh Region
the Ivanovo Region
the Irkutsk Region
the Kaliningrad Region
the Kaluga Region
the Kamchatka Region
the Kemerovo Region
the Kirov Region
the Kostroma Region
the Kurgan Region
the Kursk Region
the Leningrad Region
the Lipetsk Region
the Magadan Region
the Moscow Region
the Murmansk Region
the Nizhni Novgorod Region
the Novgorod Region
the Novosibirsk Region
the Omsk Region
the Orenburg Region
the Orel Region
the Penza Region
the Perm Region
the Pskov Region
the Rostov Region
the Ryazan Region
the Samara Region
the Saratov Region
the Sakhalin Region
the Sverdlovsk Region
the Tambov Region
the Tver Region
the Tomsk Region
the Tula Region
the Tyumen Region
the Ulyanovsk Region
the Chelyabinsk Region
the Chita Region
the Yaroslavl Region

2 cities of federal importance:

Moscow
St. Petersburg

1 autonomous region:

the Jewish Autonomous Region

10 autonomus areas:

the Aginsk Buryat Autonomous Area
the Komi-Permyak Autonomous Area
the Koryak Autonomous Area
the Nenets Autonomous Area
the Taimyr (Dolgano-Nenets) Autonomous Area
the Ust-Ordyn Buryat Autonomous Area
the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area
the Chukotka Autonomous Area
the Evenki Autonomous Area
the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area

The Federation members have broad powers.

The system of state power bodies in the republics, territories, federal cities, the autonomous region and autonomous areas is set up by the Federation members themselves, in accordance with the basic principles of the Russian constitutional structure and general organisational principles of representative and executive bodies of power laid down by the Federal law.

Outside the framework of power within the terms of reference of the Federal authorities and within the joint competence of Federal authorities and the power bodies in the Federation members, the member-republics, territories, regions, Federal cities, the autonomous region and autonomous areas exercise their own legislative regulation, including lawmaking and passage of any other legislative acts.

Under arrangements with the executive bodies in the Federation members, the Federation members, the Federal executive authorities may delegate part of their powers to the latter.

The status of a republic is defined in the Federal Constitution and the Constitution of the respective republic.

The status of a territory, region, a Federal city, the autonomous region and an autonomous area is set out in the Federal Constitution and in the Statute of the respective territory, region, Federal city, autonomous region and autonomous area, which is adopted by the legislative (representative) power body of the respective Federation member.

Russian is the official language over the entire territory of the Russian Federation. The member-republics have the right to give official status to the language of their own choosing, which may be used on an equal footing with the Russian language at state power bodies, local government bodies and state institutions of the republics.

ECONOMY

In economic terms, Russia is the most powerful and diversified part of the former Soviet Union's economic complex (actually, it owns nearly 62% of the productive fixed assets the USSR had in 1990), and following the collapse of the Union it was better placed to embrace economic independence than any other Soviet republic.

After the price liberalization in 1992, a watershed year for the country's transition to a market-oriented economy, the reforms in Russian society have been gathering momentum. Deep-going changes have occurred across the whole of Russia. The continuing privatization of businesses has added new varieties to the existing ownership patterns, which now include private ownership. Large commercial banks, exchanges, concerns, consortiums and associations and smaller enterprises and organizations have sprung into existence, and are contributing a growing share to the GDP. Today, Russia has over 950,000 small businesses which generate about 12% of the GDP, provide jobs, directly or indirectly, to 25 million Russian citizens, and pay a sizable share of revenues flowing as taxes into the Federal and local budgets. The labor and capital markets are gathering strength.

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