3a. Describe the physical geography of Russia
The vastness of Russia cannot be overestimated. Its northern latitude and size contribute to the type D (continental) climate that dominates the realm. Because most of the Russian realm is far from the moderating effects of oceans, temperatures are extreme. Winters are very cold, and summers are very hot. Furthermore, 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. These extensive plains, steppes, and plateaus are covered in forests, grasses, and wetlands. Because some of Russia extends into the Arctic, tundra covers its northern extent.
As the largest territorial empire in the world, it is not surprising that it included many different ethnic groups, including people who spoke many different languages and practiced different religions, among many other differences. Their identity was tied to that ethnic group, not Russia. The czars engaged in Russification to turn all of their subjects into Russians through language instruction and conversion to Russian Orthodoxy. This attempt to create a Russian identity was less successful the farther the people were from Moscow, the center of power.
The political cores of imperial Russia were St. Petersburg and Moscow. Peter the Great established St. Petersburg in the early 18th century to rival European cities, moving the capital there from Moscow. Although Moscow was no longer the capital, it remained an important city. Throughout the imperial period, Russia expanded from St. Petersburg and Moscow east toward the Pacific Ocean, south to the Black Sea and Caucasus Mountains, and west to Poland and Finland. Lenin moved the capital back to Moscow in 1917 following the Russian Revolution.
Rather than teaching these ethnic groups the Russian language and converting them to Russian Orthodoxy as the czars attempted to do, the Soviet central government organized them into units they could control from Moscow. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) consisted of fifteen Soviet Socialist Republics (SSRs). The largest, the Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (shown in red in the following map), included the area that the central government considered to be ethnically Russian. The remaining SSRs represented separate ethnic groups such as the Georgians, Kazakhs, Ukrainians, and Uzbeks, among others.
These SSRs had very little autonomy. Indeed, the central government sought to dilute these ethnic groups by sending ethnic-Russians into these SSRs. Members of these ethnic groups were also exiled to the hinterlands of the Soviet Federated Socialist Republic to separate them from the historic homeland of their people. Thus, it is common to find ethnic Russians who have lived in Kazakhstan (the former Kazakh SSR) and ethnic Ukrainians who have lived in Siberia (part of the former Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) for generations.
Russia's large territory means there are more opportunities for environmental damage and a greater chance that the damage will either go unnoticed or be ignored.
Many of Russia's current environmental problems date to Soviet-era industrial practices.
Review the Regional Environmental Problems described in Introducing the Realm.
Socialism encompasses a wide range of economic and social systems, and not all countries implement it in the same way. Under Stalin, the USSR forced the conversion of large family farms and privately held land and businesses to collective or state control. Collective ownership of the means of production is a fundamental tenet of socialism, but the methods used in the USSR are not. In the Soviet Union, collectivizing agriculture was meant to increase food production; instead, it was a significant factor in the devastating famine of 1932 - 1933. It is estimated that four million people starved to death in the Ukrainian SSR alone.
The central government of the USSR implemented another tenet of socialism when it took control of the economy rather than allowing it to be driven by supply and demand. This command economy allocated inputs, established output quantities, and eliminated competition. To achieve these aims, Stalin executed millions of people who did not agree with him. Central control of the economy to achieve equality is a component of socialism, but the methods Stalin used to implement and maintain that control are not.
Review The USSR and the Russian Federation, an explanation of socialism and the USSR's implementation of it as a socialist state.
Many factors contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The USSR's efforts since 1979 to maintain communism in Afghanistan was costly and exacerbated the already decaying economic situation that followed World War II. The political structure inside the Soviet Union was also faltering, and its control over the Eastern European countries behind the Iron Curtain was fading. President Mikhail Gorbachev implemented reforms, such as perestroika and glasnost, to modernize the country, but they only served to further reveal the structural problems with the economy, including corruption, waste, and fraud. Hard-line communists sought to wrest power from Gorbachev but were unsuccessful. The SSRs that wanted independence sensed weakness in Moscow and began to break away from the Soviet Union.
Review The USSR and the Russian Federation and the events leading up to the dissolution of the USSR.
The economic, political, and social situation in Russia following the collapse of the Soviet Union was tumultuous.
These Russian oligarchs continue to wield considerable power despite U.S. sanctions whereas ordinary citizens find it increasingly difficult to make ends meet.
Review The USSR and the Russian Federation, an overview of the economic, political, and social conditions that characterized Russia between 1991 and 2000.
Chechnya was part of the Soviet Federated Socialist Republic rather than a SSR such as Georgia and Armenia. Because Chechnya was administratively part of the Russian SSR, it had no right to secede. Furthermore, Russia feared that if some territories were allowed independence, many others would follow. Thus, Russia has fought to retain control of Chechnya. Chechnya's strategic location and oil-rich potential are also strong motivating factors for Russia to maintain its control.
Due to its position as a crossroads between the Ottoman, Persian, and Russian Empires and its mountainous terrain, Chechnya's history is a turbulent one.
Like Dagestan and other Russian-controlled territories in the North Caucasus, Chechnya takes pride in its cultural identity and continues to strive for independence.
Review Regions of Russia, the section on Southern Russia.
The country of Georgia, a former SSR, includes several ethnolinguistic regions that are not ethnically Georgian, including South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and Adjara which have sought independence from Georgia.
Russia's invasion of Georgia was not the first time a foreign power has sought to seize control of its territory. As part of the Caucasus region, Georgia is located on the strip of land between the Black Sea and Caspian Sea. The area has long been a heavily traveled route, connecting east and west. The Romans, Persians, Arabs, Mongols, Ottomans, Persians, and Russians have all conquered this territory since the 4th century BCE.
Review Transcaucasia in Regions of Russia.
This vocabulary list includes terms that students need to know to successfully complete the final exam for the course.