Information about Russia

Official name: the Russian Federation

President: Dmitry Medvedev (since 2008)

Prime Minister: Vladimir Putin (since 2008)

Land area: 17,075,400 square kilometres

Population (2007): 141,377,752 (growth rate: –0.5%); birth rate: 10.9/1000; infant mortality rate: 11.1/1000; life expectancy: 65.9

Capital: Moscow, pop. 10,672,000 (metropolitan area)

Monetary unit: Russian ruble (RUR)

Language: Russian, plus many minority languages

Religions: Russian Orthodox 15%–20%, other Christian 2%, Islam 10%–15%

Economic summary:
  • GDP/PPP (2007 est.): $2.088 trillion; per capita $14,700
  • Real growth rate: 8.1%
  • Inflation: 11.9%
  • Unemployment: 6.2%
  • Labor force: 75.1 million; agriculture 4.6%, industry 39.1%, services 56.3% (2007 est.).

The Russian state has its roots in the kingdom of Rus, centred originally on Kiev, in what is now the Ukraine, the founding of which is identified with the founding of Novgorod in 862, though the state was later to be overrun by the Mongol sin the fifteenth century.

Under the Romanov dynasty (1613–1917), through territorial expansion, Russia became the vast country it is today, as Siberia, the Arctic, the far east, central Asia and the Caucasus came under Russian control. With the Europeanizing reforms of Peter the Great, the country began to leave the Dark Ages behind, and look towards the west through St Petersburg, Russia's 'window on Europe'. Catherine the Great continued these pol­icies to create a country on its way to becoming a world power in the mid-18th century.

The 19th century saw great strides in capitalist development, though this was continually thwarted by the autocratic and backwards tsars. Nicholas II, whose refusal to contemplate any serious reforms precipitated the 1917 revolution.

Under the rule of the Communist Party 1917-91, Russia became a superpower, and was known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), taking over 14 neighbouring states 1922-45. The USSR passed through Stalin's terror, Khrushchev's reforms, Brezhnev-era stagnation, and finally Mikkhail Gorbachev's reform, known as perestroika. But the USSR collapsed along with communism, and reformer Boris Yeltsin led Russia into a new world of free-market capitalism.

Russia's immensity, the dark episodes of its history and its Asiastic hinterland make it a contrast to Western Europe, a fascinating destination, and a great unknown, an adventure for most travellers. Both Moscow and Petersburg offer uniquely Russian locations, whether you are int he former 'village of the Czars', Byzantine Moscow, now a thriving world metropolis, or Petersburg, the 'Venice of the North', with its Italiante architecture and canals.

Some say there are not four, but five seasons in Russia: spring, summer, autumn, winter - and Russian winter. Be prepared for dark and truly icy winters, though traditional Russian furs and perhaps a little vodka will help keep you warm. The lowest recorded temperature is -42°C, although -10°C is more common.

During the spring thaw there is unfortunately quite a bit of mud and slush around. Summer comes on fast in June, and temperatures are summery until September. The highest recorded temperature is 39°C, although the humidity can make it feel higher.