|General background: The defeat of the Russian
Empire in World War I led to the seizure of power by
the Communists and the formation of the USSR. The brutal
rule of Josef STALIN (1924-53) strengthened Russian
dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions
of lives. The Soviet economy and society stagnated in
the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail
GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and
perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize
Communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released
forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into
15 independent republics. Since then, Russia has struggled
in its efforts to build a democratic political system
and market economy to replace the strict social, political,
and economic controls of the Communist period. A determined
guerrilla conflict still plagues Russia in Chechnya.
Area comparative: Slightly less than 1.8
times the size of the US.
from steppes in the south through humid continental
in much of European Russia; subarctic in Siberia to
tundra climate in the polar north; winters vary from
cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers
vary from warm in the steppes to cool along Arctic coast.
Terrain: Broad plain with low hills west
of Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia;
uplands and mountains along southern border regions.
Population: 144,978,573 (July 2002 est.)
Ethnic groups: Russian 81.5%, Tatar 3.8%,
Ukrainian 3%, Chuvash 1.2%, Bashkir 0.9%, Belarusian
0.8%, Moldavian 0.7%, other 8.1%
Religions: Russian Orthodox, Muslim, other
Language: Russian, other
Government type: Federation
Legal system: Based on civil law system; judicial
review of legislative acts.
Economic overview: A decade after the implosion
of the Soviet Union in December 1991, Russia is still
struggling to establish a modern market economy and
achieve strong economic growth. In contrast to its
trading partners in Central Europe - which were able
to overcome the initial production declines that accompanied
the launch of market reforms within three to five
years - Russia saw its economy contract for five years,
as the executive and legislature dithered over the
implementation of many of the basic foundations of
a market economy. Russia achieved a slight recovery
in 1997, but the government's stubborn budget deficits
and the country's poor business climate made it vulnerable
when the global financial crisis swept through in
1998. The crisis culminated in the August depreciation
of the ruble, a debt default by the government, and
a sharp deterioration in living standards for most
of the population. The economy subsequently has rebounded,
growing by an average of more than 6% annually in
1999-2001 on the back of higher oil prices and a weak
ruble. This recovery, along with a renewed government
effort in 2000 and 2001 to advance lagging structural
reforms, have raised business and investor confidence
over Russia's prospects in its second decade of transition.
Yet serious problems persist. Russia remains heavily
dependent on exports of commodities, particularly
oil, natural gas, metals, and timber, which account
for over 80% of exports, leaving the country vulnerable
to swings in world prices. Russia's industrial base
is increasingly dilapidated and must be replaced or
modernized if the country is to achieve sustainable
economic growth. Other problems include widespread
corruption, lack of a strong legal system, capital
flight, and brain drain.
Communication/Telephone system: The telephone
system has undergone significant upgrades.
Places of interest: With countless cultural
treasures having withstood the tribulations of history
and economics, and an artistic legacy dating back
hundreds of years.
Travel tips: Travelers are strongly advised
against travel in Chechnya and Dagestan. The situations
in these regions are particularly volatile.