• Unit 3: Russia

    Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of physical area. It is nearly twice the size of the United States. Russia's extensive landscapes include major metropolitan areas such as Moscow, vast territories in the Arctic north, the immense forests of Siberia, the deepest lake in the world, massive grain farms, volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula, and mountain communities in the Caucasus.

    Russia is rich in natural resources, but its population is slowly declining and sees extremes of wealth and poverty. Russia recently invaded Ukraine to expand its territory, creating a war that is draining its resources and prompting other countries to boycott Russian goods. Russia is becoming increasingly isolated.

    This unit explores Russia's physical characteristics, cultural diversity, and environmental challenges. We examine the historical development patterns of Russia and its economy and the human landscape of Russia today in the early 2020s.

    Completing this unit should take you approximately 3 hours.

    • 3.1: Maps of Russia

      Let's begin our examination of Russia by studying some maps of the region.

    • 3.2: Russia's Physical Geography

      It is hard to overestimate Russia's vastness. Its northern latitude and size contribute to the continental climate which dominates the realm. Temperatures are extreme because most of its territory is far from the ocean's moderating effects. Winters are extremely cold, and summers are hot. Precipitation is highly variable.

      Although Russia's physical landscape ranges from Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, to Mount Elbrus, a dormant volcano in the Caucasus Mountains, it has large contiguous areas with little variation in elevation.

      Russia's extensive plains, steppes, and plateaus are covered in forests, grasses, and wetlands. Because parts of Russia extend into the Arctic, the tundra covers its northern extent. Russia's diverse physical geography is vulnerable to environmental threats due to the effects of global climate change and the settlement patterns it has practiced within its borders.

    • 3.3: Russia's Settlement Patterns and Environmental Challenges

      Russia's settlement patterns are due to its geography and past governmental policies. It is not surprising that vast areas of Russia remain sparsely populated, given its size.

    • 3.4: Russian History and Expansion

      Russia is the only country that comprises an entire region in this course. Although its area is smaller in 2022 than it was in the Soviet Union or the Russian Empire, Russia is still the largest country in the world (17 million km2). Canada is the second largest country at 9.9 million km2.

    • 3.5: Russian Multiculturalism and Tensions

      Imperial Russia was home to many ethnic groups that spoke and practiced many different languages and religions. The Russian czars were unsuccessful in their attempts at Russification. They forced residents to speak Russian and convert to Russian Orthodoxy, but individual identity remained tied to one's ethnic group. This attempt to create a Russian identity was less successful the farther people lived from Moscow, the center of power.

    • 3.6: The Economy and Government during the Soviet Era

      In this section, we see the perils associated with ignoring geography when making economic decisions. Russia's size poses formidable challenges when it comes to governance and the implementation of its economic goals. The Soviet Union's approach (1917–1991) proved costly and made life especially difficult during the Cold War.

    • 3.7: The Russian Federation

      Political, economic, and social uncertainty characterized the post-Soviet transition. Boris Yeltsin, the first president of the new Russian Federation, began reforming the Russian economy by privatizing state-owned enterprises. These reforms occurred so quickly that the transfer of state property and assets was handled informally.

      Well-connected entrepreneurs, who were successful on the black market during the Soviet era, became wealthy due to corrupt deals they made with former Soviet officials and newly-elected politicians. They exploited the voucher privatization system, which was intended to distribute national wealth among the general public and employees of privatized enterprises. Instead, the vouchers ended up in the hands of these well-connected entrepreneurs, who became known as oligarchs.

      Oligarchs are wealthy individuals who have undue political influence. They are often associated with corruption and are motivated by their own interests. During this time, the oligarchs of Russia weakened the economic conditions for average Russians by putting their money in Swiss bank accounts rather than investing in the Russian economy.

      Russia's depressed economy created dire conditions for ordinary Russians. Well-connected entrepreneurs became wealthy overnight, while millions of Russians became poverty-stricken. Extreme corruption, criminal gangs, and organized crime increased dramatically. Although the long food lines had disappeared and access to Western goods and consumer products became much more widely available, Russians were increasingly dissatisfied with Yeltsin's leadership. Vladimir Putin replaced Yeltsin when he resigned in 1999. Putin has continued to serve as the president of the Russian Federation with the exception of one term.

      In 2000, the Russian economy improved when it began to export vast quantities of natural resources, including oil, natural gas, metals, and timber. Foreign investment in Russia increased in the mid-2000s as the Russian economy grew. Although Russia began to establish itself as a significant contributor to the global economy, its infrastructure and manufacturing base requires modernization, its birth rate and life expectancy remain low, and poverty and social problems affect much of the population.

    • Unit 3 Assessment

      • Receive a grade