Russia is the world’s largest country. It stretches across ten time zones, encom- passing a varied terrain. The land is fairly flat, consisting mainly of plateaus and rolling plains. The Ural Mountains divide Europe from Asia. These low mountains contain great miner- al wealth. Russia has many rivers, including the Ob, Yenisey, and Lena, which flow into the Arctic Ocean. The Volga River, Europe’s longest river, drains into the Caspian Sea, the world’s largest lake.
The ecosystems are closely related to location and climate. The climate is mainly continental or subarctic. Along the arc- tic shore is an area of tundra, a largely treeless region with only tiny plants and animal life that can survive the polar conditions. Forests cover almost half of Russia and are home to many animals, including the sable and the brown bear. The fertile soil of Russia’s grasslands, called chernozem, provides nutrients for growing crops.
The Asian part of Russia is known as Siberia. A cool and swampy area, it has a layer of permafrost, or permanently frozen soil. It has rich reserves of miner- als and oil, but its harsh climate and ter- rain making mining these resources very difficult.


1 - What is chernozem?
2 - Map Skills What is the capital of Russia?


Modern Russia began in the 800s, when Vikings established a state in what is now Kiev, Ukraine. The Slavic people who lived there accepted the state. Orthodox Christianity became the main religion of the region.Mongol warriors conquered the area, but Russia regained control and set up a series of monarchs, called czars, to rule the land. Under the czars, the nation expanded its borders.In 1812 Napoleon of France invaded Russia, capturing Moscow. The Russians burned their cities as they fled, and Napoleon began leading his troops back to France. However, the troops were unprepared for Russia’s harsh climate and terrain. Almost all of Napoleon’s men died on this return trip. By the twentieth century, Russia controlled nearly all of northern Eurasia.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 caused the czar to abdicate, or give up his crown. The revolutionaries established a Communist dictatorship called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union had a com- mand economy, which meant the government decided what goods would be produced. The government also controlled people’s lives. Those who complained were sent to prison and labor camps or killed. In the late 1980s, a new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, introduced a policy of glasnost, or
openness, that allowed people to speak freely. The government also offered a plan for pere- stroika, or economic restructuring. This called for a gradual change from a com- mand economy to private ownership. Since the end of 1991, Russia’s govern- ment has become democratic, but Communist beliefs are still held by a large number of the population.


3 - What policies did the Russian gov- ernment establish during the late 1980s?
4 - Time Line Skills What happened in 1237 in Russia?


More than 80 percent of Russia’s inhabi- tants consider themselves Russian, the descendants of the Slavic peoples. Almost three fourths of Russia’s people live in urban areas. However, traditional ways of life continue in villages and rural areas. About 25 million residents of Russia belong to non-Russian ethnic groups. Intense ethnic conflict has occurred in the republics within the Caucasus region. The worst fighting has taken place in Chechnya. Desir- ing independence, Chechens fought a guerrilla war against Russian control during the
1990s. After a three-year cease-fire, fight- ing between the two countries resumed.
Transportation within Russia has been a challenge. Travel by road is slow and almost impossible during winter months. Air travel is costly and unsuitable for the transport of resources. The many rivers in Russia provide a good method of trans- port, but they too cannot be used in the winter when they are frozen. Railroads are the most important means of transporta- tion. Several major railroad systems run through the nation, including the great Trans-Siberian Railroad.
Changing from a command economy to a market economy has been difficult for Russia. Consumer goods are scarce and unemployment is high. Financial instabil- ity led to the growth of a black market, through which goods and services move unofficially without formal record keeping.
Russia faces many other challenges. The health of the population has declined since the 1990s. Intense industrialization depleted natural resources and contami- nated many urban areas and bodies of water. Lack of money hinders Russia’s ability to solve these problems.

5 - How many people living in Russia consider themselves Russian?
6 - Chart Skills Which nation has a stronger economy—Russia or the United States? Why?