Russia Country Profile – Facts
Location: North Eastern Europe/North Asia
Capital City: Moscow
Population: 143.5 million
Government: Federal semi-presidential republic. The President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is head of Government.
Main Language: Russian. There are 35 other official languages
Main Religions: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism.
Russia - officially the Federation of Russia - is the largest country on earth and covers one-eighth (6.6 million square miles) of the world’s inhabited land area. It has a population of 143.5 million people and its territory extends from Eastern Europe to Northern Asia, sharing borders with 14 countries and covering nine time zones. Russia’s geography is as diverse as its culture – with landscape that includes forests, vast tundra plains, subtropical beaches and arctic mountain ranges. The country is divided into 83 federal ‘Subjects’ (constituent entities of Russia), which can be divided into republics, territories, provinces and cities. Following the partition of the Soviet Union (USSR), 15 independent states have been acknowledged. Russia has since emerged from a decade of post-Soviet economic turmoil to reassert itself as a world power.
Russia, in all its guises, has had significant cultural, economic, political and artistic influence worldwide. The country boasts some of the world’s most stunning architecture with thousands of visitors flocking to see the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg and the ice-cream shaped towers of St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow. Russia has also produced legendary literary figures such as Trotsky and Dostoevsky as well as the internationally-acclaimed Bolshoi Ballet.
Russia has a rich cultural history which has influenced classical music, art, literature, architecture, dance and philosophy for centuries. The family and loyalty to one’s country are central to Russian culture and Russians are exceedingly proud of their ancient and modern traditions. Russia is home to at least 190 ethnic groups which have created unparalleled diversity and cultural traditions throughout the Federation and the rest of the world. Present day Russian culture is still greatly influenced by the collective spirit which was forged in the Soviet era, with hospitality and sharing with one another being central to everyday life.
Unsurprisingly due its vast size, Russia incorporates almost all leisure pursuits from high-energy to the more sedate. There are endless opportunities for outdoor activities such as cycling, mountaineering, skiing and water sports. Russians are passionate about angling, particularly Atlantic salmon fishing and winter spearfishing. Football is the national sport and is followed fanatically, particularly in the capital which is home to Spartak Moscow FC. Russia is known for its world-leading cultural activities, with Moscow being home to the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet company and a huge range of museums, opera houses and theatres. The world-famous Moscow State Circus is also high on many visitors’ lists of must-see activities. Many of Russia’s traditional festivals, such as the Russian Winter Festival afford opportunities to enjoy folk dancing, music and arts as well as much vodka drinking! Russians are also passionate about chess, with a succession of Grandmasters, such as Garry Kasparov , hailing from the country.
Food and Drink
Russia has a diverse cuisine which represents its many cultural, political and ethnic influences throughout the centuries. One of the most well-known Russian dishes is borscht a beetroot soup with vegetables, meat and soured cream; its composition varying according to different areas. Staples of the Russian diet are meat, potatoes, cabbage and a huge variety of soups. Pirozhkis (small buns filled with potatoes, meat or cheese) are considered a national dish as well as caviar (ikra) and blini (small pancakes).
The most popular drinks are vodka - of which there are 3,000 varieties - and beer, which has only recently been classified by the Russian government as alcoholic (previously, any drink with less than 10% alcohol was considered a foodstuff).
It is thought that over 80% of Russia's 143 million people speak Russian as their first language. There are over 100 minority languages with Tatar, Chuvash, Ukrainian, Bashi, Mordvin, Circassion and Chechen among the more widely spoken, although most speakers of minority languages also speak Russian. The Russian alphabet uses letters from Cyrillic script so the language can seem daunting for beginners. However, a number of letters are written and pronounced roughly the same as English. Many Russians speak a good level of English but learning Russian is a must for those who wish to move there, as English is not used in daily life.
Accents and Dialects
Despite Russia's size and ethnic diversity, the Russian language has few variations in dialect. Standard Russian, in both written and spoken form, is used in almost every area of the country. This can be explained by the historical and present influence of centralised rule from Moscow and also by 20th Century mass migration from rural to urban areas. There is likewise very little difference in accent and pronunciation across the country. A number of dialects still exist in Russia, termed 'Northern' and 'Southern' but they are not widely spoken.
Due to Russia's enormous size, the country incorporates most of the world's climate zones so generalising about the weather is difficult. However, on the whole Russia's weather is characterised by mild to hot summers and very cold winters, with temperatures plummeting to below -35°C in Siberia. Northern and Central European Russia has the mildest climate, with mostly dry summers. Russian winters generally bring a large amount of snowfall, so heavyweight clothing is essential.
Safety and Security
Popular opinion and hype about Russia's high crime rate is slightly misplaced. In reality it is only marginally higher than the UK and USA. Moscow sees high levels of violent crime, although no more than London and New York. Bribery and corruption constitute Russia’s most widespread criminal activity. Visitors to Russia should feel relatively safe in the main tourist areas, although care should be taken in large cities such as Moscow, where it is not advisable to venture out after dark alone. Alcohol-related crime and violence are a particular problem so it is best to stay with a group when going out and keep an eye on personal possessions. Terrorist threats and attacks in Russia have seen an increase in recent years so check Foreign Office advice before travelling.