Major Geographic Features
The world's largest country by land area, Russia ranks sixth in terms of population. It occupies much of E Europe and all of N Asia, extending for c.5,000 mi (8,000 km) from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east and for 1,500 to 2,500 mi (2,400-4,000 km) from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Altay and Sayan mts., and the Amur and Ussuri rivers in the south.
The Urals form the conventional geographic boundary between the European and Siberian parts of Russia. Russia's dominant relief features are (from west to east) the East European plain, the Urals, the West Siberian lowland, and the central Siberian plateau.
Mt. Elbrus (18,481 ft/5,633 m), in the Caucasus, is the highest peak in the country. The chief rivers draining the European Russia are the Don (into the Black Sea), the Volga (into the Caspian Sea), the Northern Dvina (into the White Sea), the Western Dvina (into the Baltic Sea), and the Pechora (into the Barents Sea).
The climate of Russia, generally continental, varies from extreme cold in N Russia and Siberia (where Verkhoyansk, the coldest settled place on earth, is situated), to subtropical along the Black Sea shore. The soil and vegetation zones include the tundra and taiga belts, the entire wooded steppe and northern black-earth steppes, and isolated sections of semidesert, desert, and subtropical zones.
Population and Ethnic Groups
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia has experienced a steady decline in population. This is due in part to the difficult economic conditions the nation has endured, which has led to a very low birth rate, and to a reduced male life expectancy. The population dropped has been slowed somewhat by immigration consisting mainly of ethnic Russians from other areas of the former Soviet Union.
There are at least 60 different recognised ethnic groups in Russia. The majority of the population are Russians (83%). There are also Ukrainians (3%) and such non-Slavic linguistic and ethnic groups as Tatars (3%), Bashkirs, Chuvash, Komi, Komi Permyaks, Udmurts, Mari, Mordovians, Jews, Germans, Armenians, and numerous groups in the Far North and in the Caucasus.
Administratively, the Federation has relied on regional divisions inherited from the Stalin and Brezhnev constitutions of 1936 and 1977. Each area with a predominantly Russian population is constituted as a territory or region; non-Russian nationalities are constituted, in descending order of importance, as republics, autonomous regions, and autonomous areas.