History and National Identity 
Sketch of Russia


 By Andrew Oh
 

 

 

Formerly the preeminent republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Russia has been an independent nation since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. As part of the Soviet Union, it was called the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic.

 

With an area of 6,592,800 square miles (17,075,300 square kilometers), it is the world's largest country, almost twice the size of either China or the United States. Covering much of Eastern Europe as well as the whole of Northern Asia, Russia extends nearly halfway around the Northern Hemisphere. It stretches some 4,800 miles (7,700 kilometers) along the Arctic Circle and from 1,250 to 1,800 miles (2,000 to 2,900 kilometers) north to south. Its most characteristic landscape is a rolling to flat plain. Two such plains are divided by the Ural Mountains that form the traditional boundary between Europe and Asia (1993, Riasanovsky) In contrast, eastern Siberia is hilly to mountainous tableland. There are active volcanoes on the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands.

 

More than 80 percent of the 149 million people who live in Russia are ethnic Russians. There are also some 75 ethnic groups. Almost three quarters of the people live in urban areas. The chief cities are St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Nizhni Novgorod, and the capital, Moscow, which was also the capital of both the Russian Federation and the Soviet Union. Russia, especially the Urals and Siberia, is rich in industrial resources. It contains perhaps the world's largest iron-ore deposit, the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly. The Urals contain almost every mineral but are short of coal. Coal is mined in the Pechora, Kuznetsk, and Kansk-Achinsk basins. Petroleum and natural gas are extracted in western Siberia and also in the Volga-Urals fields and the North Caucasus. Because of its size Russia displays both monotony and diversity. As with its topography, its climates, vegetation, and soils span vast distances. The climates of both European and Asian Russia are continental except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Great ranges of temperature are typical. In winter temperatures get colder both from south to north and from west to east. Summers can be quite hot and humid, even in Siberia.

 

With a population of more than 148.5 million in the early 1990s, Russia ranks sixth in the world after China, India, the United States, Brazil, and Indonesia. Of all the 15 former Soviet Union republics, Russia has the greatest ethnic diversity, with about 75 distinct nationalities. Russians make up about 82 percent of the total, and only three others (Tatars, Ukrainians, and Chuvash) constitute more than 1 percent each. Language groups include Indo-European, comprising Eastern Slavic and Iranian tongues; Altaic, including Turkic, Mongolian, and Manchu-Tungus; Uralic, including Finno-Ugric and Samoyedic; and Caucasian, comprising Abkhazo-Adyghian and Nakho-Dagestani. In addition, there are several Paleo-Asiatic groups in far eastern Siberia.

 

As a whole, Russia's rate of population growth is well below that of previous decades, resulting primarily from a decline in the birthrate of the Russian majority. Rates among minority peoples continue to grow, particularly those with Muslim backgrounds. Migration from European Russia to Siberia and the Far East has resulted in regional variations.

 

Because of its great size, its natural resources, and its political domination, the Russian Federation played a leading role in the economy of the Soviet Union.(1993, Riasanovsky) In the years preceding the dissolution of the union in 1991, the economy of Russia and the union as a whole was in decline. In 1992, immediately after the dissolution, the Russian government implemented a series of radical reforms. Price controls were abolished as the beginning of a transition from a centrally controlled economy to a market economy. (~ 990, Smith) An immediate series of sharp price increases caused extreme hardships for the Russian people.  Russia has by far the largest coal reserves among the former Soviet republics. It is also one of the world's leading producers of petroleum and natural gas. Extensive pipeline systems link producing districts to all parts of Russia and across the border to many European countries. Much of the country's filel is converted to electricity, but about a third of the electricity is produced by hydroelectric plants.(1990, Smith) The largest of these are on the Volga, Kama, Ob', Yenisey, and Angara rivers. High-voltage transmission lines move large amounts of electricity from Siberia to the European part of the country.  The country's machine-building industry satisfies most of Russia's requirements for electric generators, steam boilers and turbines, grain combines, electric locomotives, and automobiles. It also fills much of its demand for machine tools, instruments, and automation components. Major automobile factories are in Moscow, Nizhni Novgorod, Yaroslavl', Ul'yanovsk, Izhevsk, and Togliatti~ There is a heavy truck factory at Naberezhnye Chelny.

 

In November 1917 the Bolsheviks first created the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Shortly afterward a declaration of peoples' rights permitted the formation of autonomous units within the federation.(1992 Roxburgh) In 1922, with the formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the Russian Federation became a separate republic and, like the other union republics (which eventually numbered 15), was subject to the various constitutions of 1918, 1924, 1936, and 1977. Until the late 1980s the structure of all Soviet government, including that of the individual republics, was dominated at all levels by the Communist party. After the failed coup of August 1991, the Communist party was stripped of its power and all of its property was confiscated. Multinational Russia includes 24 minority republics, four autonomous oblasts (provinces), four autonomous okrugs (districts), six krays (regions), and 49 oblasts.(1992, Roxburgh) The people are governed by a parliament, the Congress of People's Deputies. In 1991 the new post of president was created to head the executive branch and to be elected by popular vote. In elections held in June of that year Boris Yeltsin became the first democratically elected leader of the republic. He outlined a plan to give greater political and economic authority to the federation and to diminish the role of the central government. Yeltsin's defiance of the coup that briefly deposed Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in August inspired a popular uprising that led to the unraveling of the old central controls. The Soviet Union officially disbanded in December 1991, Russia became an independent state officially known as the Russian Federation, and it joined with ten of the other former Soviet republics to form the new Commonwealth of Independent States. (1992, Roxburgh)

 

Russia was in turmoil until the Bolsheviks, under the leadership of Lenin, officially established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on Dec.30, 1922. The Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic dominated the Soviet Union for its entire 74-year history. The Russian Federation was by far the largest of the republics; Moscow, its capital, was also the capital of the Soviet Union, In 1991 the Soviet Union disintegrated. Boris Yeltsin was elected president of Russia. As economic conditions worsened, he was opposed by hard-line former Communists who controlled the parliament. He dissolved the parliament on Sept.21, 1993, and set new parliamentary elections for December. When the legislators rose up in armed rebellion, Yeltsin used the army to remove them from office on October 4. He then assumed control of the government.

 

Sources

Riasanovsky, N.V. A History of Russia, 5th ed. (Oxford, 1993).

Roxburgh, Angus. The Second Russian Revolution (Pharos Books, 1992).

Smith, iledrick. The New Russians (Random House, 1990).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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