Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Russian Federation

Russia is officially known as the Russian FederationРоссия is the largest country in the world, stretching from Northern Europe to the Caucasus and from Eastern Europe to Asia.  It covers 1/8th of the world's inhabited land area.  It's larger than Pluto!  It spans nine time zones and borders Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea.  The Russian exclave Kaliningrad borders Lithuania and Poland.  Russian shares maritime borders with Japan, Canada and the USA.  It is home to almost 143.8 million people.  The capital and largest city is Moscow.

Peter the Great proclaimed the Russian Empire, the 3rd largest empire in history, in 1721.  His reforms opened Russia to Western Europe.  Catherine the Great further expanded Russian territory into Central Europe and to the Black Sea.  Eventually, Russia colonized Alaska and even established settlements in California.

©To Discover Russia

Serbia and Russia were allies and when the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, Russia was pulled in to WWI in 1914.  In February 1917, the Russian Revolution overthrew Czar Nicholas II.  The October Revolution overthrew the provisional government and in 1922 Vladimir Lenin created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world's first socialist state.

The Soviet Union consisted of 15 republics.  The largest was the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.  Russia contained over half the entire Soviet Union's population and dominated the USSR.

Mikhail Gorbachev's liberal reforms in 1985 led to nationalism and numerous independence movements.  In 1991, the Baltic republics declared independence and later that year the USSR broke in 15 independent states.  Boris Yeltsin became the first directly elected president in Russian history.  Throughout the 90s there was a major economic crisis, problems with corrupt privatization and an increase in poverty and violent crime.  Plus a war in Chechnya.  In 2000, Vladimir Putin became President.  In 2008, Dmitry Medvedev became President and Putin once again became Prime Minister.  In 2012, they switched roles.

©Watch Mojo

The country is officially a federation and semi-presidential republic.  The President is the head of state while the Prime Minister is the head of the government.  The Russian Federation is made up of 46 provinces, 22 republics, 9 territories, 4 autonomous districts, 1 autonomous province and 3 federal cities.

Russia is home to 160 different ethnic groups but ethnic Russians make up over 77% of the country's population.  These groups speak some 100 languages but Russian is the only official national language.

Worldwide, more than 150 million people speak Russian as their native language with many more, especially in former Soviet republics, speaking it as a second language.  Russian is one of the United Nations' six official languages.  

Seventy years of communism put a damper on religion.  However, today the two largest faiths are Russian Orthodox and Islam.

Vladimir Putin has said that "the break-up of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century."  It looks like things are being put in place to put the pieces back together again.  Russian citizenship is now available, in as little as three months, to Russian speakers who have lived in any former Soviet republic for three years.  Some countries, such as Estonia and Ukraine, do not allow for dual citizenship so this complicates things.  The Duma, the lower house of parliament has now made it easier for Russia to annex territory.

Russia claims to have a right to intervene in former Soviet republics to protect all Russian speakers.  This was used to invade Georgia in 2008 and to recently annex Crimea.  Hopefully, diplomacy will prevail and a peaceful resolution will be found soon.

Russia recently passed an anti-gay propaganda law which has a huge impact on the LGBT community there.  Here's a YouTube video I found that gives more details about it.

©VOA News

The currency is the Ruble ().
Russia is one of the places that I've always to visit but have just never had the chance.  For one thing, most people need a visa and the procedures to obtain a Russian visa are a pain in the arse.  Expensive too.  However, you can take a ferry from Helsinki to St. Petersburg which allows for a 72 hour visa-free visit.  Let's hope that things calm down so that my parents won't worry too much about my visit next month.

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