Europe and Russia


Print Friendly and PDF      Site Search and Site Map   


Table of Contents


Europe                      The Russian Domain






alpine glacier





Major Geographic Qualities

1. western extremity of Eurasia

2. many industrial resources

3. lingering world influence

4. high degrees of specialization

5. manufacturing dominance

6. numerous nation-states

7. urbanized population

8. aging and declining population

9. high standards of living



Observatory in the Bavarian Alps

Physical Characteristics

1. peninsula of peninsulas: A peninsula is a piece of land surrounded by water on three sides. Europe is a peninsula of the Eurasian supercontinent. Its main peninsulas are the Iberian, Italian, Crimean and Balkan, located in southern Europe, and the Scandinavian and Jutland, located in northern Europe.


2. Europe can be divided into four major physical regions, running from north to south: Western Uplands, North European Plain, Central Uplands and Alpine Mountains.

a. western uplands: geologically older, lower, more stable than Alpines … curve up the western edge of Europe and define the physical landscape of Scandinavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark), Finland, Iceland, Scotland, Ireland, the Brittany region of France, Spain, Portugal … defined by hard and ancient rock shaped by glaciation, abundant marshlands, lakes, fjords

b. north European lowlands: lengthy arc (aka Great European Plain) of rivers and waterways, most densely populated region of Europe, agriculture, industries … extend from the southern UK east to Russia and includes parts of France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Poland, the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), Belarus … mostly lies below 500 feet in elevation, home to many navigable rivers (Rhine, Weser, Elbe, Oder, Vistula), climate supports wide variety of seasonal crops … allowed for early communication, travel, agricultural development, avenue for migrationEuropean central uplands

c. central uplands: heart of Europe, hills, low plateaus, raw materials (iron, coal, other resources for manufacturing) … east-west across central Europe and include western France and Belgium, southern Germany, Czechia, parts of northern Switzerland and Austria … lower in altitude and less rugged than the Alpine region and heavily wooded ... sparsely populated except in the Rhine, Rhine, Elbe and Danube river valleys

d. alpine system: highland region, spine of Europe … includes ranges in the Italian and Balkan peninsulas, northern Spain, southern France … includes the mountains of the Alps, Pyrenees, Apennines, Dinaric Alps, Balkans, Carpathians … high elevations, rugged plateaus, steeply sloping land, active volcanoes, such as Mount Etna and Mount Vesuvius in Italy


3. diverse physical geography

a. complex geology with newest and oldest formations

b. latitudinal extent (from Arctic to Mediterranean Subtropics)

c. modification of latitudinal controls by land and water interaction

i. marine (maritime) influence

ii. continental influence (continentality)

d. thousands of years of human occupation caused changes (human-environment interaction)


Religions of Europe




Cultural Characteristics

1. Europe has a long history of human development and is considered the birthplace of Western Civilization: the result of classical civilizations, Christianity, the Renaissance and Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions

a. Greece: philosophy, democracy, roots of science, art and architecture

b. Rome: law, engineering, infrastructure (city structure, roads and aqueducts), establishment and spread of Christianity, areal functional specialization


2. The Roman Empire’s cultural influence remains to this day. French, Spanish, Romanian and modern Italian derived from Latin. Roman fondness for wine brought vineyards to France. The empire laid the cornerstones of many of today's modern cities (such as Paris), and invested in the infrastructure that was vital for their longevity.


Influences on European Culture after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire

3. Agrarian Revolution: began in Europe in 1750s, based on new agricultural innovations, enabled increased food production, enabled sustained population increase


4. Industrial Revolution: developed in UK between 1750-1850, evolved from technical innovations that occurred in British industry, proved to be a major catalyst toward increased urbanization, produced a distinct spatial pattern in Europe, greatly altered many kinds of relationships, countries within the region have a history of interaction among themselves


5. Political Revolution: Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 (key step in evolution of state system) ended decades of war, French Revolution, Revolutions of 1848, rise of socialist thinking


6. multi-ethnic and  multi-cultural

a. resulted from migration and cultural diffusion (the spreading of culture) … more than 160 ethnic groups, over 60 languages spoken

b. Some countries have only one major ethnic group, such as Sweden (share common language, culture, religious heritage). Some, like Belgium, have two major ethnic groups - the Flemings and the Walloons - share a common religion, but do not speak the same language. Some, like Switzerland, have multiple languages spoken (French, German, Italian, Romansch).

c. Multiculturalism can be a source of tension: Multi-ethnic rivalries (Albanians, Bosnians, Croats, Serbs) within the former country of Yugoslavia have caused bitter conflict. This area is often called a shatter-belt because the once communist country split into five separate countries. Even after the split, ethnic differences still cause fighting and conflict. These ethnic groups have followed a policy of ethnic cleansing (expelling or killing an entire ethnic group), leading to thousands of deaths and refugees.


7. key European cultural traitsPrague Czech Rebuplic

a. political system: commitment to democracy where the leaders rule only with the consent of the population

b. legal system: Napoleonic Code derived from Roman Law

c. economic system: commitment to capitalism or market economy

d. industrialization and urbanization

e. government services: education, medical and health care, retirement


8. Europe’s culture has spread world-wide through exploration, colonization, imperialism, immigration, trade





Demographic Characteristics

1. falling share of world’s population but continues to experience slow natural growth (birth rates lower than death rates; immigration prevents population loss)


2. in last stage of Demographic Transition (or beyond): women in workforce, widespread contraception, shortage of affordable housing, some countries offer incentives2020 Population Pyramid for Europe to increase national growth


3. high per capita GDP, literacy rate, life expectancy


4. fewer young people


5. smaller, well educated working age population


Europe old-age dependency ratios 2060

6. age-dependent boom and bust: A higher ratio of young dependants usually correlates with increased poverty. Countries with rapid declines in fertility have benefited from the demographic dividend and falling dependency ratios. A fertility rate of about 2.1 is needed for long-term stabilization but few countries have been able to stop the fertility decline at that point as individuals (especially women) realize the advantages of having fewer children. At a lower fertility rate, future growth is much harder to achieve and several countries face future aging shocks. The consequences of both too many and too few babies show up in dependency ratios – the young and old dependent on those of working age. While today’s problem for developing countries is the high level of poverty due to high fertility, tomorrow’s problem will be avoiding a decline in living standards in countries with aging populations and declining workforces. Northern Europe, France and the UK have in varying degrees tried to avoid it with programs such as job protection and generous leave for pregnant and nursing mothers, government funding of nursery schools, direct child support payments and other measures to reduce the economic opportunity costs of childbearing. They see this as investment in the future workforce, not just welfare cost. (If you’re interested, read From demographic boom to dependency bust.)


7. Immigration was welcomed for a long time because there was a labor shortage. In recent years, economic and cultural differences have led to problems between "old" and "new" Europeans.

a. scarce jobs should go to Europeans first

b. concerns about international terrorism

c. concern about dilution of national culture

d. immigration may be only way to solve labor shortage, workers needed to keep up tax revenues and support retirees

e. EU working to establish common immigration policy: guest workers (migrant workers from other countries, usually doing low-wage work), called gastarbeiter in Germany (mostly Turks), other European countries have migrants from their former colonies, additional migration from Eastern to Western Europe


8. highly urbanized

a. Medieval Landscape (900-1500 CE): densely settled, buildings next to streets, green space only near churches and public squares

b. Renaissance-Baroque (1500-1800): wider streets, large gardens, monuments, more open space, ornate architecture

c. Industrial (1800-present): walls and fortifications removed, factories and industrial areas build on edge of cities, urban sprawl developed



European road sign



Economic Characteristics

1. birthplace of the Industrial Revolution … started in England following the discovery of coal and iron ore


2. age of advancements in making machinery and in new methods of  production … led to a rise in industrial capitalism: an economic system in which business leaders seek to expand companies and maximize profits


3. Industrial Revolution led to a prosperous middle class of merchants and factory owners (but factory workers were underpaid and lived in overcrowded, unhealthy conditions).


4. use advanced farming techniques which gives them high crop yields


5. well developed infrastructure


6. Supranationalism is a venture involving three or more states cooperating politically, economically and/or culturally to promote shared objectives. A supranational union is a type of multinational political union where negotiated power is delegated to an authority by the governments of member states so that the organization has power over the states. The concept of a supranational union is sometimes used to describe the European Union, as a new type of political entity. The EU is the only entity which provides for international popular elections, going beyond the level of political integration normally afforded by international treaty.


7. European Union (EU): original Members Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, UK … goal to coordinate policy among members in economics, defense, justice and home affairsThe Eurobarometer report, published by the European Commission, surveyed Europeans to see how they understood concepts of European citizenship and identity. One of the most interesting questions in the report focused on how European citizens viewed their relationships to their home nations and to Europe as a whole, asking whether they identified themselves only by their nationality, by nationality and then as European, as European and then by their nationality, or just as European.

a. The EU is an economic and political confederation of 28 member states (as of 2016) located primarily in Europe. It operates an internal (or single) market which allows free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states.

b. The EU operates through a system of supranational independent institutions and intergovernmental-negotiated decisions by member states.

c. The EU provides for free movement of workers and capital, a single market and a common currency (euro). In effect, Europe has become one large unified market.

d. problems: loss of autonomy, disparities in levels of economic development, technical barriers, cultural barriers

e. Macron’s New Europe (the European Political Community) Debuts in the Shadow of War


Grand Canal,Venice Italy

8. progressive approach to environment

a. Agriculture, resource-extraction, industrial manufacturing, urbanization create air and water pollution and acid rain.

b. Western Europe is one of the world’s greenest regions because of pro-environment policies since 1970s.

c. European voters support environment in Europe and globally, including reduction of greenhouse gases.

d. Eastern Europe neglected its environment under Soviet-style economics; Soviet-designed nuclear plants may be dangerous.

e. Difficult to solve Eastern Europe’s environmental problems due to ongoing economic and political evolution.





Sub Regions of Europe

Political CharacteristicsWhere did the "new" European countries come from?

1. End of Cold War led to revival of nationalism.

a. Czechoslovakia divided peacefully (Czechia and Slovakia)

b. Yugoslavia divided through armed conflicts, “ethnic cleansing”

c. Germany reunited

d. Soviet Union dissolved


2. Ideas of nationalism seem to be giving way to pan-European identity and a region-wide currency.


3. role of government: Most Europeans expect government to play an important role in running the economy of their nation and in providing for their welfare.


4. There are a number of issues that Europe will need to deal with in the near future.

a. Brexit: UK’s decision to leave the EU has ramifications for both the UK and the EU which will need to be resolved quickly and smoothly.

b. immigration: Almost 2 million people entered the EU illegally in 2015, with almost 1 million applying for asylum. These numbers include refugees from conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and economic migrants from the Balkans, Southwest Asia and Africa. Europe’s aging population can use the workers but the EU’s current immigration policy is inadequate under the best conditions and Europe is not prepared to handle such large numbers so quickly.

c. ISIS: It’s probable that the terrorist group will attack more European cities … something that may force the EU to deal with border security as well as unstable governments in Southwest Asia and North Africa in order to avoid the prospect of ISIS entrenching itself on Europe’s borders.

d. Russia: Tensions between Russia and a unified US-NATO, which began with EU sanctions linked to Russian aggression in Ukraine, have escalated. It seems unlikely that sanctions will be lifted unless Russia withdraws and restores Ukraine’s border but, given Russia’s apparently similar aggressive intent in other countries – Georgia and Moldova, for example – it seems equally unlikely that Russia will withdraw.


an English village

5. Western Europe

Principality of AndorraRepublic of Austria, Kingdom of BelgiumFrench RepublicFederal Republic of Germany,  Principality of LiechtensteinGrand Duchy of LuxembourgPrincipality of MonacoKingdom of the NetherlandsSwiss Confederation


6. British Isles

Bailiwick of Guernsey (UK), IrelandIsle of Man (UK), Bailiwick of Jersey (UK), United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

Vatican City in Rome


7. Northern or Nordic Europe

Kingdom of DenmarkFaroe Islands (Denmark), Republic of FinlandRepublic of IcelandJan Mayen (Norway), Kingdom of Norway, Svalbard (or Spitsbergen, Norway), Kingdom of Sweden


8. Mediterranean Europe

Republic of CyprusGibraltar (UK), Hellenic Republic (or Greece), The Holy See (or Vatican City State), Italian RepublicRepublic of MaltaPortuguese Republic, Republic of San MarinoKingdom of Spain

a. discontinuous region between Austria and the Aegean Sea covering the Balkans and Greece, an area encompassing various religions and linguistic groups, lands with volatile and violent histories, EU members and non EU members

b. on the periphery: northern part tends to be more prosperous and considered part of the core while southern part tends to be less prosperous and considered periphery

c. cultural continuity dates from Greco-Roman times

d. Mediterranean climate: hot, dry summers and warm/cool, moist winters

Budapest Hungary


9. Eastern Europe

Republic of AlbaniaBosnia and HerzegovinaRepublic of BulgariaRepublic of CroatiaCzechia (or Czech Republic), Republic of EstoniaHungaryRepublic of Kosovo,  Republic of LatviaRepublic of LithuaniaRepublic of North MacedoniaMontenegroRepublic of PolandRomaniaRepublic of SerbiaSlovak Republic (or Slovakia), Republic of Slovenia

a. Europe’s largest region, contains the most countries

b. adjoins 3 of 4 other European regions

c. includes Europe’s largest country

d. includes Europe’s poorest country


e. In 1990, none of its states could meet the criteria for membership in the EU. Since then, several have joined the EU including Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, the Slovak Republic and Slovenia. Several are also Eurozone and European Economic Area countries, while others are CEFTA countries. (The latter is a free trade agreement in the Balkans linked to the EU.)

f. reaches into Russian zone of influence





Optional Resources


Political Resources on the Net

Google's Arts & Culture collection virtual world museum tours

Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts | The European refugee crisis and Syria explained (6:16)

For visitors and natives alike, Europe has an outstanding selection of museums, from art museums such as the Louvre in Paris and the Prado in Madrid, to elaborate displays of technological progress found in London's National Museum of Science and Industry.

Photographic tours of European countries.

Medieval Europe produced a number of impressive castles, some of which have survived centuries of conflict and can be visited today, including The Tower of London, Dolwyddelan Castle in Wales and Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. Castles can be found in Spain (over 2,000), Germany, France and many other European countries. | Castles of Europe

The tiny principality of Andorra is located in the high mountains of the Pyrenees between France and Spain. | Andorra 2 | Andorra 3 | The US gave billions of dollars in aid to the wealthy European principality of Andorra, which it mistakenly assumed was a poor African country.

Vienna Austria: Vienna, one of the finest and most famous cities in the world, is in the eastern part of Austria at the bottom of the Alps and on both sides of the Danube River.

Austria | Austria: center of European traffic | Photos (scroll down to the 6 galleries) | Culture | The Local

Belgium | Belgium Official Site | History and geography | Building Zaha Hadid’s bold afterlife | A pipeline of beer (1:26) | Brussels police fine Pokémon Go players for being a danger to themselves and others

France | Travel to France and experience French culture and everyday life. Note the differences between your lifestyle and that which is lived in France.Abbey Mont Saint-Michel, France | Paris France Cam | Take a virtual tour of the Louvre in Paris

Abbey Mont Saint-Michel, France is a small rocky tidal island situated on the north-west coast of France. The island is characterized by the highest tides in Europe (up to 46 feet high), steep rocks and quicksand. Its surrounding waters can move 11 miles away from the island and 12 miles deep into the coast. For centuries all these features made Mont Saint-Michel an impenetrable fortress. The first inhabitants of this 300-foot tall mountain, the ancient Celts, didn't have any illusions about it and called it Mont Tombe (Mountain Tomb). Originally, Mont Saint-Michel wasn’t an island: it was surrounded by forests that were later washed away by the ocean. Today it's a Benedictine abbey of seven people. It occupies an area of about 34 square miles and is regarded as a unique example of a fortified medieval French monastery.

Germany | Political violence is rising in Germany. So is a scary new political party. | 30 interesting facts about Germany | Photos | Berlin City Life | Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany, which translates as “The New Swan Cliff,” was built in the second half of the 19th century by Ludwig II of Bavaria. | Germany’s Tiny Geographic Oddity

The Principality of Liechtenstein is the sixth-smallest country in the world. It lies in the heart of the Alps between Switzerland and Austria. A doubly landlocked German-speaking microstate, its ruling family is among the world's oldest noble families. | Liechtenstein | History and geography | Culture | Liechtenstein Princely CollectionsThe Princely House

Luxembourg | Visit Luxembourg | 14 infographics about Luxembourg | History and geography

Monaco | Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco, is a sovereign city-state and microstate, located on the French Riviera in Western Europe. France borders the country on three sides while the other side borders the Mediterranean Sea. The House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since 1297.

the Zuiderzee (Zuider Sea) Project

Netherlands | Reclaiming Land from the Sea: The Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg (collectively known as "the Benelux"), form one of the most densely populated areas on Earth. Occupying a land area roughly the size of the state of Maine, there are more people living there than the total populations of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland put together. To accommodate this growing population, the Netherlands has devised an ingenious plan to actually create more land for its people. The plan is not a new one either. Initiated in 1932, the Zuiderzee (Zuider Sea) Project was initiated by the Dutch to expand their land territory by reclaiming land from the sea. The Zuiderzee (a large saltwater inlet of the North Sea) was separated from the Atlantic using a large dike. Water was then pumped from the inlet, creating new lands called polders. See also Earthshots. | The Dutch Islands of Tomorrow

Switzerland | Virtual Grand Tour of Switzerland | Switzerland from Above (25:25)

Ireland is an island in the North Atlantic. It is separated from Great Britain to its east by the North Channel, the Irish Sea and St George's Channel. Ireland is the second-largest island of the British Isles and the third-largest in Europe. The Republic of Ireland covers five-sixths of the island. | Dublin Ireland Cam

Isle of ManThe United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom or Britain, is a sovereign state in Europe. Lying off the northwest coast of the European mainland, it includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland, and many smaller islands. Situated in the English Channel off the coast of Normandy, Guernsey is a jurisdiction within the Bailiwick of Guernsey, a Crown dependency. The Isle of Man, also known simply as Mann, is a self-governing Crown dependency in the Irish Sea between England and Northern Ireland. Jersey, officially the Bailiwick of Jersey, is a Crown dependency of the United Kingdom, ruled by the Crown in right of Jersey, off the coast of Normandy, France. (On the site linked above, click on the Watch Video link.) | Belfast | Bognor Regis UK Cam | Take a virtual tour of the small islands speckling the waters surrounding Britain, preserved by caretakers.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire, England

London Panorama: This is amazing. Move the mouse around and discover the streets of London.

For centuries, historians and archaeologists have puzzled over the many mysteries of Stonehenge, the prehistoric monument that took Neolithic builders an estimated 1,500 years to erect. | Whence Came Stonehenge’s Stones? Now We Know

Denmark | What can we learn from Denmark? | hygge: a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being, regarded as a defining characteristic of Danish culture (See how popular the idea has become in British culture.) | Finding the Hygge on Denmark’s West Coast | Copenhagen | Copenhagen 2 | Denmark’s daring dogsledders | Maps | New record for cheapest offshore wind farm

Faroe Islands | The Faroe Islands are an archipelago between the Norwegian Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean and are an autonomous country within the Kingdom of Denmark.

Finland | What Americans keep ignoring about Finland's school success | Culture | Finland jets monitor Russian fighters on border flights | History and geography | Jean Sibelius – Finlandia (9:36) | Northern Light: Oulanka National Park | How Finland Is Teaching a Generation to Spot Misinformation


Iceland | Virtual tour of Iceland, which is a mysterious country with a legendary history, has the lowest population density in Europe. A little more than 320 thousand people live on 64,000 square miles (7,500 of which are covered with ice). By contrast, Iceland’s national sheep population is just under 800,000. More than half of Icelanders live in the country’s capital, Reykjavík. Although called “the land of ice,” Iceland has boiling hot springs and geothermal lakes. Iceland is also one of the most active volcanic regions in the world. Iceland has a north Atlantic climate that produces frequent rain or snow and a near-Arctic location that produces large glaciers, whose summer melts feed many rivers leading to hundreds of waterfalls throughout the country. Iceland is home to Europe’s largest glacier, the world’s hottest river, the largest waterfall in this part of the world and the world’s greatest cluster of geysers – more  than 250 geyser groups consisting of 7,000 hot springs | Amazing Iceland (4:47) | Iceland Cam | Monitoring the Weather at the Edge of the World | Driving Iceland’s Overlooked North

Norway | Norway (3:33)  | Jan Mayen Island, Norway | Nature and history of the outpost in the North Atlantic

Fjords are considered to be among the most beautiful sights of the world: narrow, winding and cut deep into the land, these sea bays are lodged between steep cliffs that sometimes reach over 3,000 feet high. They can be found all around the world from Chile to Russia, but when you mention fjords, most people think about Norwegian fjords because that country has the highest number of the most beautiful fjords in the world. A fjord is formed when a glacier cuts a U-shaped valley by ice segregation and abrasion of the surrounding bedrock. Glacial melting is accompanied by a rebound of Earth's crust as the ice load and eroded sediment is removed. In some cases this rebound is faster than sea level rise. Most fjords are deeper than the adjacent sea. Sognefjord, Norway, reaches as deep as 4,265 ft below sea level. Each fjord is unique.

Undoubtedly, Svalbard (formerly known as Spitsbergen) is one of the most unusual places on the Earth. This vast polar archipelago, Svalbardlocated in the Arctic Ocean, is the northernmost part of the Kingdom of Norway. The archipelago features a severe Arctic climate, although in the western part it is softened by the Gulf Stream. Nevertheless, the average temperature of the hottest month of the year, July, is only 40°F, and the first snowfalls can occur in August. In such conditions only low and cold-tolerant vegetation can survive: the dwarf birch, the polar willow, different kinds of mosses and lichens. Certain species of red seaweed exist on glaciers, turning them into pinkish tones. The unique feature of Svalbard is the small number of microbes, dust and bacteria — it's too cold for them here. The islands of the archipelago are the home for polar bears, arctic foxes, the smallest of reindeers — Svalbard reindeers, as well as whales, bearded seals, walruses and beluga whales. The only species of birds inhabiting the archipelago all year round is the willow ptarmigan. But depending on the season, one can come across 90 other species of birds. One interesting feature of the archipelago is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault — a seed bank created in 2006. An unremarkable entrance on the surface leads to the facility located 394 feet below the sandstone terrain. Permafrost and the lack of tectonic activity allow the samples of agricultural plants to survive any possible cataclysm and save the humankind from starving, in case of need. | When the ice retreats | To visitors, the Norway’s Svalbard archipelago can seem both ethereal and eternal. But climate change all but guarantees an eventual collapse of its vulnerable ecosystem. | Finally, a Peek Into the Arctic Seed Vault That Could Save Humanity

Sweden | Sweden is tackling the 'throwaway culture' with tax breaks on repairs | Economy | The Sweden Myth | Sweden: Restrictive immigration policy and multiculturalism | In Sweden, men can have it all | Culture | Sweden, Dressed in Summer

The role of the Greeks and Romans in shaping Mediterranean Europe today cannot be underestimated. To this day, many of the buildings and structures of ancient Mediterranean society remain intact for visitors to see.

Cyprus, officially the Republic of Cyprus, is an island country in the Eastern Mediterranean. By legend the birthplace of the ancient Greek goddess of love, Aphrodite, Cyprus's modern history has, in contrast, been dominated by enmity between its Greek and Turkish inhabitants. | Culture | Hopes rise for deal to end 40-year frozen conflict in Cyprus | A Rebirth of Old Nicosia

The Rock of Gibraltar Gibraltar | Gibraltar is a British Overseas Territory located on the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula. The Rock of Gibraltar is the major landmark of the region. At its foot is a densely populated city area, home to over 30,000 Gibraltarians and other nationalities. Gibraltar was captured from Spain in 1704 and ceded to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and has remained a diplomatic flashpoint ever since. | Gibraltar: 10 things you need to know about the Rock | Upper Rock Nature Reserve | Gibraltar after Brexit: Spain and UK reach deal to curb tax evasion | Spain claims success in Gibraltar row with Britain

Santorini (Thira), Greece: In the 12th century, Edis, the Arab geographer, named the largest island in a little archipelago of five islands in the Aegean Sea after a local church of Saint Irene. Venetians reinforced the name Santorini, when they occupied the territory in the 13th century. The name is still used throughout the world, except for one nation - Greece. The Greeks call their main (and the largest of the five) island Thira. The archipelago used to be a large island with a sleeping volcano in the middle. At the end of the 15th century the volcano suddenly woke up. Horrible eruptions buried all local settlements (many researchers believe that they were the lost cities of Atlantis) under hot lava. The central part of the island fell into cavities opened by the eruption, creating a caldera - a round crater with circular walls pointing to the center. The cataclysm caused a tsunami wave over 300 feet high that spread for almost 70 miles, reaching the island of Crete. The tsunami was so powerful that it washed the famous Minoan civilization off the island. Continuous volcanic activity formed the modern shape of the archipelago. | Greece | Braving the Winds on a Greek Isle

The monastery complex of Metéora, Greece, is one of the very few human structures that was created both by man and nature. The Metéora is an extremely uniqueMeteora, Greece example of harmonious craftsmanship that enriches the local landscape without changing it. Magnificent 2,000-feet-high mountains lie on the Thessaly Plain in the middle of northern Greece. Over 60 million years ago this place was at the rock bottom of the Prehistoric Sea. Continuous weathering from water, wind and extreme temperature turned them into massive stone pillars. The whimsical shapes of the rocks look like they are suspended in the air, hence the name Metéora, which means "middle of the sky" or "suspended in the air" in Greek. Six centuries ago (perhaps even earlier), monks started to settle in this area in search of solitude. They lived in caves and built spiritual structures on top of the unreachable rock towers. The monks used winches to lift up construction materials and food supplies. Timber beams were set deep into the rock fissures to aid with the lifting up of the materials. At the end of construction, the beams were partially taken apart or left in place to decompose with time. The monks also used special nets to lift people up, a method that could take up to 30 minutes. The setup not only protected the monks but also gave refuge to local people during times of unrest and war. Today only 6 of 24 monasteries remain open. The high contrast of red tiled roofs against the grey rocks of surrounding mountains look unreachable, yet stunning. Every single structure is built within the rocks without disturbing their natural beauty, and every one of them is unique. For example, The Holy Monastery of St. Nicholas Anapausas is built on a relatively small rock pillar. Its limited surface forced monks to position temples, individual cells and utility rooms on different levels, turning the monastery into a labyrinth. | Exploring Greece’s Unseen Corners

Holy See (Vatican City) | The Holy See: The Vatican is the web site of the Pope. Catholicism has had a significant impact on the development of Europe and the world for nearly two thousand years. It continues to influence events around the world. The head of the Catholic religion is the Pope who lives in Vatican City, an enclave within the city limits of Rome, Italy (5:08). This site provides access and links to information about this major religion, from history to current issues and Papal announcements. It also provides access to the Vatican library catalogue, which contains an extensive array of historical documents. For example, the first page of a simple search on Erasmus returned several documents dating back to the 16th century. | Inside Vatican City and the Renaissance Architecture of the Holy See: The Renaissance Architecture inside this walled enclave has some of the most famous cultural properties in the world.

Italy | A millennium and a half of Venice, Italy history included countless wars and crusades, booming trade and banking. Overall Venice has always been an independent, rich and successful city. Located in the center of Europe, which means in the middle of main European events, Venice went through several periods of prosperity and downfall. Venice is called the city on water, with 118 islands, 150 canals and 400 bridges. There are no roads, cars, taxis, buses, trams or bikes. You either walk on foot or use water transportation: boats, motorboats or gondolas. Nevertheless, with the passing centuries, it has become clear that Venice can’t beat nature entirely. During the 20th century alone, Venice sunk 9 inches. By the year 2028, scientists predict the city will go completely underwater. | Italy Photos | Photos 2 | This Italian village was dying … until the refugees came (7:07) | An ancient world concealed underground | The Haunting Beauty of a Hut-to-Hut Hike in the Dolomites | Quiet Reflections on the Enchanting Italian Village of Panicale | The Haunting Beauty of a Hut-to-Hut Hike in the Dolomites | Life and Death on the Lighthouse of the Mediterranean | ‘There’s Something in the Air’ in Italy’s Salento

Malta | Military History of Malta (5:47) with revolving background. This is a 6m video that gives a potted history of Malta, with a revolving background from the Upper Barrakka Gardens - rather humorous - good overview. | Profile of Malta | For a more in depth history take a look at VISIT MALTA with timelines and details from prehistoric times to current.

The Iberian Peninsula, also known as Iberia, is located in the southwest corner of Europe. The peninsula is principally divided between Portugal and Spain, comprising most of their territory. It also includes Andorra and a small part of France along its northeastern edge, as well as Gibraltar on its south coast. | Portugal Photos | Spain Photos | Painting the Sky: Bee-eaters | Portugal | Spain

San Marino

San Marino | The Republic of San Marino is an enclaved microstate surrounded by Italy, situated on the Italian Peninsula on the northeastern side of the Apennine Mountains. Its size is just over 24 square miles. San Marino claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, as the continuation of the monastic community founded in 301 CE by stonecutter Marinus of Arba, fleeing persecution for his Christian beliefs. It has a constitution written in 1600. The capital was the only town for centuries until the tiny country expanded beyond its lofty city limits by purchasing small amounts of additional territory over time.

The Balkan Peninsula, or the Balkans, is a peninsula and a cultural area in Southeast Europe with different and disputed borders. The region takes its name from the Balkan Mountains that stretch from the eastern border of Serbia to the Black Sea at the east of Bulgaria. It includes the countries of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, and the geographical/political region of European Turkey.

Albania's modern-day blood feuds | History and geography | Albania's deep-rooted drug problem touches all of Europe | Albania doesn’t want to become one with Kosovo | Why you must visit Albania

Bosnia Herzegovina Newspapers | Genocide in the 20th century | History and geography | Bosnia applies for EU membership

Sofia Bulgaria | History and geography | Bulgaria puts up a new wall, but this one keeps people out | Novinite News | Economy | Human Rights Watch: Bulgaria

Croatia’s Dalje | History and geography | In Diocletian’s Living Room | Photos | Osijek | World Bank: Croatia | Welcome to the world's newest country: the Kingdom of Enclava | Vis Island | Abandoned Tunnels of Korčula

Czechia | Prague, Czechia, is one of the most famous and beautiful cities in the world. The city's nine hills are situated on the bank of the Vltava River, offering very picturesque views. There are many unique architectural landmarks in Prague that survive to this day: Powder Tower, medieval Vyšehrad fort, Old Town Square, Jewish Quarter, Charles Bridge, etc. | Czechia: The myths and facts about the short English name of Czechia | Czechia Official Site | Photos | Metamorphosis | Czechia Cam

The Baltic states, also known as the Baltics, Baltic nations or Baltic countries, are the three countries in northern Europe on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The Baltic states cooperate on a regional level in several intergovernmental organizations. | Russia's Periphery | How do we protect the Baltic States?

Estonia | Estonia Official Site | Tallinn, Estonia - old town rooftop adventure (13:31) | Photos | The Setu of Estonia (2:37) | e-Estonia

Hungary | Architecturally Hungary is a treasure trove, with everything from Roman ruins and medieval town houses to baroque churches, neoclassical public buildings and Art Nouveau bathhouses and schools. | Nazi holocaust documents found: 6,300 files discovered behind wall of Budapest apartment | Budapest | Human Rights Watch: Hungary | Best Countries for BusinessMedieval Monuments in Kosovo | Budapest Hungary Cam

Kosovo is a disputed territory and partially recognized state in Southeast Europe that declared independence from Serbia in 2008 as the Republic of Kosovo. While Serbia recognizes administration of the territory by Kosovo's elected government, it still continues to claim it as its own Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija. Kosovo is known for its 13th-century domed monasteries, some of which are on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. | A reporter returns to Kosovo, 15 years later | Kosovo chronology | History and geography | Exodus from Kosovo: Why thousands have left the Balkans | English devolution: lessons from Kosovo

Latvia | Latvian News | Why is life expectancy in Latvia 6 years shorter than the OECD average? | Secret Soviet ghost town | History and geography | Riga named among hipster capitals in the world | Get to know Latvia

Lithuania | Economy | Lithuania celebrates 100 | Researchers map wartime escape tunnel in Lithuanian forest | Life in Soviet Lithuania – in pictures | Lithuania, Estonia, UK, Denmark call for EU action on Russian information warfare

North Macedonia was spared the inter-ethnic violence that raged elsewhere in the Balkans following the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s but Greece's objection to the new state's use of what it considered a Hellenic name, delayed international recognition, which occurred under the provisional designation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. | North Macedonia closes its border 'completely' to migrants | History and geography | Ancient Macedonia

Montenegro is located in the southwestern part of the Balkan Peninsula. The wild nature of Montenegro coexists in harmony with small Perast and the Bay of Kotortowns and monuments of ancient architecture. The coast of Montenegro is a narrow 1-6 mile wide strip between the sea and high steep mountains. The Bay of Kotor, also known as Boka Kotorska, is more than 12 miles long. The Bay of Kotor, an inlet formed by the partial submergence of a river valley, is the largest Adriatic bay between Montenegro and Croatia. Kotor is one of the main historical cities of the region, influenced by the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Venetians. The small town of Perast is yet another historical center of Montenegro due to its numerous palaces, churches, fortresses and fortifications. There are two small islands near Perast – St. George with its Benedictine abbey and Gospa od Škrpjela. The latter is, perhaps, the only man-made island in the Adriatic. The island was built on the reef, where in 1492 two Venetian sailors from Perast found an icon of the Madonna and Child. For over 200 years, local people sank old ships and seized pirate ships around it. Furthermore, there was a law obliging every passing ship to throw a rock near the islet. Over time, the small islet grew into a plateau with an area of almost 2 square miles on which the Church of Our Lady of the Rocks was built.

Poland | Poland has created arguably Central Europe’s greatest post-communist success story. The former royal capital of Kraków is a living lab of architecture over the ages. | The hunt for Nazi gold: Inside Poland's labyrinth of secret WWII tunnels | Exploring Krakow's Market Square: Poland's Culture Capital | The Warsaw Voice

Romania Government | History and geography | At Ceausescu’s villa, focus is on décor, not dictatorship | The real Transylvania | Who are the Roma people? | 5 Intriguing Facts About the Roma | Roma Culture | The Roma: A thousand years of discrimination | A rough guide to Roma music | Human trafficking and modern-day slavery: Romania | See the breathtaking landscapes of the Fagaras Mountains in Romania.

Serbia Government | A new era in Russian-Serbian relations? | Why Serbia is strengthening its alliance with Russia | Economy | Human Rights Watch: Serbia | Archaeologists unearth magic spells and ancient skeletons in Serbia

Slovakian flag


Slovakia | Guide to the Slovak Republic | History and geography | Migrants crisis: Slovakia 'will only accept Christians' | Photos

Slovenia Times | History and geography | A river’s gifts | Economy | Government | 6 great things about Slovenia that have nothing to do with Melania Trump















The Russian Domain


Major Geographic Qualities

1. Russia

a. immense territorial state

b. world’s northernmost large populous country

c. former world colonial power

d. comparatively small (<145 million) and concentrated population

e. concentrated development

f. multicultural state

g. minimal ports

2. We include Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine in the Russian domain because politically there is persisting Russian influence over those former SSRs and because geographically they all have a high-latitude continental climate with seasonal temperature extremes and a short growing season.

Physical map of the Russian domain



Defense towers in the village of Erzii (eagle) in the Caucasus Mountains … It is said that when God created the world, he sprinkled nations over the globe, but clumsily dropped his shaker over what ancient travelers called the “mountain of languages,” creating one of the most diverse regions by area on the planet.




Physical Characteristics

1. Russian Plain: core of ancient Russia state … eastward continuation of North European Lowland … vital to Russia for its crops (wheat, barley, beans, oats) and industry (coalfields stretch throughout the plain) … Volga River (Mother Volga): longest river in Europe, frozen half the year, important transportation route, transports people and goods from one city to another … Black Sea: on southern extent of plain, route to Mediterranean Sea


2. Ural Mountains: not high but  2,000 miles long and separate two large plains … mountain range where Europe and Asia meet … known for its variety of gems and stones, minerals and fossil fuels  (platinum, sapphire, silver)


3. western Siberian Plain: world’s largest unbroken lowland … permafrost, marsh … large part of northern and central Russia that crosses Asia … Those who live there fish, hunt seals and walruses, or herd reindeer. People often use helicopters to travel between villages.


4. central Siberian Plateau: remote and sparsely settled … permafrost … Lake Baikal: rift lake (created by a rift zone where the Earth's crust is slowly pulling apart), world’s oldest (30 million years) and deepest freshwater lake, holds almost 20% of world’s unfrozen freshwater, plant and fish species in the lake can be traced to prehistoric times, large paper mill nearby has polluted the region but is a major source of jobs and wealth


5. Yakutsk Basin: last non-mountainous land to east … basin of the great rivers flowing to the Arctic Ocean – the Lena, Yana, Indigirka, Kolyma … permafrost 450-1,000 feet deep … extensive areas of fossil ice on the coast


6. eastern highlands: frontier zone … jumbled mass of ranges, precipitous valleys, volcanic mountains … severe climate, inhospitable, slightly less inhospitable toward Pacific … lumber, fur, gold, diamonds


7. central Asian Ranges: rise above the snow line, glaciated … along the border with Mongolia


8. Caspian Sea: about the size of California … largest inland body of water in the world, borders several countries … salt water


9. Caucasus Mountains: extension of Alpine Mountains … Mount Elbrus, the highest point in Russia at 18,510 feet … fertile region of valleys where many non-Russian people live (13 different ethnic groups, many – such as the Armenians – have cultures far older than Russians)


Russia's extreme environmental challenges

10. Kaliningrad (Königsberg) is a seaport city at the mouth of the navigable Pregolya River, which empties into the Vistula Lagoon and the Baltic Sea, by which route sea vessels can access the Baltic. Formerly a part of Germany, the Soviets captured the port during WWII and kept it, forcibly expelling the German population and repopulating it with Soviet citizens. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Kaliningrad became an exclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, geographically separated from the rest of Russia, making Russia a fragmented state. Russia deploys nuclear-capable missiles in Kaliningrad.RUSSIAN AGRICULTURE


11. climate: winters long, dark, cold … summers short with limited growing season, lack of precipitation … cut off from maritime air masses


12. An unfortunate characteristic of this region is the extensive and often harmful modification to the landscape that has taken place by an increasingly urban and industrial population. The magnitude of many of these environmental challenges is so great that they have global implications and may affect world climate patterns, water quality and nuclear safety. For example, it is estimated that since the 1980s, the global environmental costs of Siberian forests lost to lumbering and pollution may have exceeded the more widely publicized destruction of the Brazilian rain forest.





Cultural CharacteristicsSiberian Ribbons: Vivid colors and bizarre shapes come together in an image that could be an imaginative illustration for a fantasy story. This labyrinth of exotic features is present along the edge of Russia’s Chaunskaya Bay (vivid blue half circle) in northeastern Siberia. Two major rivers, the Chaun and Palyavaam, flow into the bay, which in turn opens into the Arctic Ocean. Ribbon lakes and bogs are present throughout the area, created by depressions left by receding glaciers.

1. historic remoteness from mainstreams of change and progress … self-imposed isolation, mistrust of the outside


2. early history: To understand the history of Russia and the former USSR, you must examine the early history of the Slavic peoples, defined linguistically as a distinctive branch of the Indo-European language family. The Slavs originated in or near the Pripyat marshes of modern Belarus. Around 2,000 years ago they began moving eastward, extending as far as modern Moscow by 200 CE. By 900 CE, Slavic power grew as they intermarried with southward-moving warriors from Sweden known as Varangians (Vikings). Established the first political system in Russia known as "Rus."


3. Mongol legacy: Mongols invade Kiev heartland of Slavs in 1240 CE


4. expansion: During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Russian Empire expanded. Russia allied herself with a semi-nomadic group of Slavic-speaking Christians known as the Cossacks. Expansion into Siberia and by 1700 Russian power extended to the Pacific Ocean.


5. Tsarist legacy: consolidated Russia’s gains, created European-style state of Russia, expansion to the south and east (tried to move toward Indian Ocean) … A foothold on the Baltic was established as the result of a military victory by Tsar Peter the Great (1682–1725) over Sweden. Built St. Petersburg, a new and important Russian city. A victory over the Poles and Turks in the late 18th century allowed for the acquisition of all of modern-day Belarus and Ukraine. Tsarina Catherine the Great (1762–1796) was particularly instrumental in colonizing the fertile Ukraine and bringing the Russian Empire to the warm-water shores of the Black Sea.


6. colonial legacy: During the 19th century, the last large gains were made in Central Asia and the Caucasus.


7. rise of the USSR: The Soviet Union resulted from the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1917. Soon after, the Bolsheviks, a faction of the Russian Communists which represented the interests of the industrial workers, took control of the newly-created USSR. Its leader was Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, more popularly known as Lenin. The communist state was to last roughly 75 years until it was dissolved in December 1991, effectively bringing an end to the Cold War.


8. Soviet legacy: Under Soviet command economy government owned everything – banks, factories, mines, transportation, farms. Soviet government emphasized heavy industry to become a world super power. Result was little production of consumer goods. Made it very difficult for the citizens to get basic things needed to survive. People resorted to purchasing things on the black market (illegal trade system with very high prices).


9. Russian radical nationalism: Russians have always been xenophobic (intense or irrational dislike or fear of people from other countries) but the trend is increasing … recent xenophobic vitriol, attempts to form nationalist parties, distribution of propaganda literature, beatings, murders, nationalist extremist groups on the political periphery with links to government security services … Experts say nationalism has risen to fill the void in national ideology since the fall of communism.

a. Ethnic Russian nationalism has been growing since the fall of the Soviet Union, along with attempts by the regime to commandeer it. There’s a growing ethnification in Russian nationalism that has helped give rise to militant Russian nationalist sentiment.

b. Nationalist sentiment has turned against “culturally alien” migrants (those from Central Asia and the Caucasus). There has been growing support for preferential treatment for ethnic Russians, as seen in the Russia for Russians movement. This sentiment poses major challenges to the stability of the regime and, correspondingly, international politics.

c. Russia has had an enormous number of racist (and LGBT and other minority) murders. Hate crimes fell off sharply in 2014 when Russian intervention in eastern Ukraine prompted an outflow of radical nationalists to support the separatist Russians in Ukraine.

d. In 2013, an anti-migrant campaign was conducted over several months on Russian television, which featured vigilante groups assisting federal police authorities in raids on migrant dormitories and led to an unprecedented rise in ethno-xenophobia in Russian society.

e. Mounting Russian nationalism may be a direct threat to the independence of former Soviet republics. Note that every time Russia has become aggressive with one of its neighbors – whether verbally or militarily – the excuse given has been to support ethnic Russians who are being mistreated in whatever country is being attacked.

f. A Distracted Russia Is Losing Its Grip on Its Old Soviet Sphere (10/08/22)


10. religion

Eastern Orthodox Church

a. Communists promoted atheism, religion was strongly discouraged.

b. Christianity: Eastern Orthodox Church central to Russian life prior to communist rule, regained following after communism (41%).

c. Islam: second largest religion (6.5%)

d. Judaism: long been persecuted in Russia, pogroms (organized massacres)

e. Buddhism: two former republics mostly Buddhist





Demographic CharacteristicsRussian Ethnic Groups

1. low standard of living: government unable to meet obligations … considerable and obvious wealth gap … inflation … in rural areas mortality rates are high and living conditions "abominable” … universal education but quality declining … improving but still poor health care


2. over 185 different ethnic groups: Slavs (largest group, dominate Russia’s culture, includes Russians, Poles, Serbs, Ukrainians), Turks (mainly Muslim), Caucasian (from Caucasus region in SE) … Russian dominance


3. The average population density is 22 people per square mile but most people live in the area between the Belarus and Ukraine borders and the Ural Mountains where density is 120 people per square mile. The overwhelming majority of the region’s population is concentrated in the west and southwest where climatic conditions were the least difficult during the past when most people scratched out a living by farming.

In other words, the distribution of population is closely related to the history of the region, the expansion of territory over time and the development of the region’s economy. The line of settlement along the southern margin all the way to the Pacific represents the exploitation of resources that took place during the Soviet era along with the establishment of an earlier rail line.


% Pop growth rate

Dependency ratio

per 100

Life expectancy Female/Male

% Urban pop


GDP %annual growth rate

% Pop using internet


















































Russian Life Expectancy at Birth

4. population decline: Russia is facing a demographic dilemma today. The population of Russia has dramatically declined since the collapse of the Soviet Union. At the time of the breakup (1991), Russia had a population close to 150 million (about half that of the US). Today, the population stands at around 140 million despite the immigration of thousands of Russians from the near abroad (the newly independent republics that emerged after the dissolution of the Soviet Union).Disappearing Russians

The birth rate has dropped sharply, albeit temporarily, at times but is fairly stable long term. (Economic uncertainty seems to be a factor persuading people against having children.) It’s the increasing death rate that is the cause of the declining population. The reasons behind the increase in the crude death rate are such things as alcoholism, drugs, suicide, industrial accidents, diseases, violent crime, etc. Those things may stem from the difficulties associated with the political transition and subsequent economic uncertainties. (Check out the population pyramids below.)

The trend is more pronounced in males than in females. For example, in 1991 the life expectancy for males was 71 years. Today it has dropped to 59. If the present trends continue Russia will have a population of only 100 million by the year 2050. (It should be noted that other ethnic groups in Russia are not experiencing these same dramatic declines.) If this present trend continues then we may see a resurgence within Russia of xenophobia and a subsequent rise in Russian nationalism.

 2020 Population Pyramids for Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine

5. problems: suicide, lifestyle choices (smoking, alcoholism, drug abuse, poor diet), poor health care (medical facilities still owned by the government are inefficient), out-migrationRussian apartment building


6. inside the Russian city: Russian cities are carefully planned in form and function, with circular land-use zones.

a. Core has superior transportation, and the best stores and housing. Core predates Soviet era.

b. sotzgorods: work-linked housing, including dorms

c. chermoyuski: apartment blocks from 1950s-1960s

d. mikrorayons: self-contained housing projects of 1970s-1980s

e. dachas: country houses available only to the elite





NATURAL RESOURCESEconomic Characteristics

1. wealth of natural resources: rich soils in some areas, timber, metals, precious gems, energy resources (fossil fuels), manufacturing food products, telecommunications, consumer goods … Resources and industries are poorly managed, however, and widely dispersed, with many in remote Siberia.

Most problems with resources have to do with climate and distance. For example, oil and gas exist in abundance in the West Siberian Plain. Very cold temperatures in the winter and swampy / marshy conditions in the summer make accessing the resource difficult. (Soggy conditions in the summer are the result of upper layers of frozen soil thawing and ice break-ups along southern portions of rivers. Ice flows in the north where rivers are still frozen create ice jams and flood surrounding land.)


2. market economy: The levels of industrialization at the start of the Soviet era were among the lowest in Europe. The region worked hard to catch up with the West but the result was inefficiency and extremely high levels of pollution. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the region has had extremely rapid political and economic change: from a centrally planned economy to attempts at capitalism, and from authoritarian dictatorship to democracy.

Russia removed price controls in 1992 and sold its state-owned businesses to private investors in 1993. Higher prices and the lack of legal safeguards have created problems. (Russia has attempted to create a market economy but has not provided the structure needed for it to succeed – private property protection, rule of law, etc.) Agriculture still struggles, in part due to the harsh climate and landforms. Many people see little economic gain from the changes.

Many Russians reinvested their money in other countries rather than in Russia. The region has struggled to attract foreign investment but investors are wary due to post-Soviet periods of instability. Most investments come from the US and Western Europe (especially Germany and the UK). In recent years, foreign investment has grown by 14% annually.

The rest of the region has replaced its communist systems with a mix of state-run operations and private enterprise. The independent republics negotiate for needed resources with Russia and each other rather than accept centralized control but Russia continues to dominate the region’s economies.


3. trade: developed partnerships with other countries for trade but few exports … became member of APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation) in 1998 … international relations growing, loans from other countries


Russian pipelines

4. industrial resources: #1 in petroleum extraction and processing … crude oil, iron ore, manganese, nickel


5. manufacturing capacity: steel, heavy machinery, agriculture equipment


6. transportation infrastructure

a. longest coastline but frozen year-round

b. transporting goods: roads aren’t good, especially in Siberia … depend mostly on railroads and waterways for transportation

c. transporting people: railroads are most common … many people do not own cars, use public transportation … airlines very expensive

d. transporting energy: pipelines for natural gas and oil

e. mass communications: Soviet Union controlled all of this … private ownership has grown


7. inherited a legacy of environmental problems (poor water, soil, air quality … nuclear waste and dangerous nuclear plants) … During Soviet rule, government only cared about power and not damage to the land. Russia must now use their natural resources without causing similar damage and repair the damage already done.



Russian church and museum

Political Characteristics

1. emergence of a commonwealth of Slavic countries to replace Soviet Union


2. globalization: The future of the region is in many ways tied to the unpredictable global energy economy. During the Soviet era the region was largely isolated from the rest of the world. Global linkages have increased in the post-Soviet period. The strongest link between Russia and the outside world is an economic one and is tied to oil and gas. Russia has 35% of the world’s natural gas reserves (Siberia). Russia is the largest non-OPEC oil producer and second largest exporter of oil. Pipelines are thus important and play a role in the politics of the region.


3.  Russian Federation


a. Russia is so immense it’s difficult to imagine. It’s one-sixth of earth’s landmass, spans 11 time zones and is twice the size of the US or China. There are a number of challenges related to its vast size.

i. distance decay: Increasing distance between places tends to reduce interactions between places. In the case of Russia, effective government control is often times reduced farther from Moscow.

ii. There are thousands of miles of border to monitor and defend and multiple neighbors.

iii. Many different ethnic groups live in Russia. Many administrative regions are based on ethnicity. Many of these groups dislike Russians or the power base in Moscow and would like to govern themselves independent of Russia.

iv. Vast size means that huge distances must be overcome in transportation and communication.

v. Russia is a fragmented state (Kaliningrad: former German territory obtained after WWII).

vi. In addition, many Russians live outside Russia. During the Soviet era, the state pursued a program of Russification (sending Russians to live in non-Russian areas). After the break-up of the Soviet Union, some Russians found themselves aliens living in a foreign country.

vii. Putin’s Empire Starts to Crumble (09/27/22)

b. Eastern Frontier (manufacturing regions)

East of the Urals, in south-central Russia, is Russia’s Eastern Frontier, a region of planned cities, industrial plants and raw-material processing centers. The population is centered in two zones here: the Kuznetsk Basin (or Kuzbas, for short) and the Lake Baikal region.

The Kuzbas is a region of coal, iron ore and bauxite mining; timber processing; and steel and aluminum production industries. Central industrial cities were created across the eastern frontier to take advantage of these resource opportunities.

Agriculture, timber and mining are the main economic activities in the eastern Lake Baikal region, which is more sparsely settled than the Kuzbas. Some of the longest river systems in the world flow through the eastern frontier.

c. Siberia (oil and gas regions)

Stretching from the northern Ural Mountains to the Bering Strait, Siberia is larger than the entire United States (5.2 million square miles) but is home to only about fifteen million people. Its cities are located on strategic rivers with few overland highways connecting them.

Type D (continental) climates dominate the southern portion of this region, and the territory consists mainly of coniferous forests in a taiga biome, one of the world’s largest taiga regions. Type E (polar) climates can be found north of the taiga along the coast of the Arctic Sea, where the tundra is the main physical landscape. No trees grow in the tundra because of the semi-frozen ground. Permafrost may thaw near the surface during the short summer season but is permanently frozen beneath the surface. On the eastern edge of the continent, the mountainous Kamchatka Peninsula has twenty active volcanoes and more than one hundred inactive volcanoes. It is one of the most active geological regions on the Pacific Rim.

In the west, abutting the Ural Mountains, is the huge West Siberian Plain, drained by the Ob and Yenisey rivers, varying little in relief, and containing wide tracts of swampland. East of the Yenisey River is central Siberia, a vast area that consists mainly of plains and the Central Siberian Plateau. Farther east the basin of the Lena River separates central Siberia from the complex series of mountain ranges, upland massifs and intervening basins that make up northeastern Siberia (i.e., the Russian Far East). The smallest of the four regions is the Baikal area, which is centered on Lake Baikal in the south-central part of Siberia.

Siberia does not get warmth from the Atlantic Ocean because of the barriers of Europe and the Ural Mountains, or from the warmer climes of Central Asia because of the mountains to its south and the mountains of the Russian Far East. The only side of Siberia which is not blocked off by a geographical barrier is the north, opening up the area to the bitter cold of the Arctic Ocean. To add to these disadvantages, most of Siberia's soil is acidic podsol, which is not a good match for agriculture. However, there are rich, fertile black earth belts in the southwest (known as chernozem), as well as scattered pockets of rich land in other parts of southern Siberia. Despite the many drawbacks for cultivating Siberia lands, there exists a multitude of rivers and lakes that can be put to use for irrigation.

The vast northern region of Russia is sparsely inhabited but holds enormous quantities of natural resources such as oil, timber, diamonds, natural gas, gold, and silver. There are vast resources in Siberia waiting to be extracted, and those resources will play an important role in Russia’s economic future.


d. Far East

Across the strait from Japan is Russia’s Far East region, with the port of Vladivostok as its primary city. Bordering North Korea and China, this far eastern region is linked to Moscow by the Trans-Siberian Railway. Before 1991, Vladivostok was closed to outsiders and was an important army and naval base for the Russian military. Goods and raw materials from Siberia and nearby Sakhalin Island were processed here and shipped west by train. Sakhalin Island and its coastal waters have oil and mineral resources. Industrial and business enterprises declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, the far east is finding itself on the periphery of Russia’s hierarchy of productivity. However, it has the potential to emerge again as an important link to Pacific Rim markets.

e. Moscow and St Petersburg (Leningrad): two largest cities and capital cities

f. Russian Mafia: There are estimates that the Russian mafia controls 40% of the private economy and 60% of the state-run enterprises. Up to 80% of the banks in Russia may be under mafia influence. The result has been corruption and the expectation of paid protection. The Russian mafia has expanded globally: money laundering (Russia, UK, US), gambling (Sri Lanka), drugs (Colombia), legitimate Israeli high tech companies.

g. the Ruble Rules: Russia uses economic clout in the region for political purposes. For example, Russia gave Ukraine a substantial discount price on the natural gas Ukraine buys from Russia when Ukraine agreed to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow. Three months later, Russia said Ukraine had been too lenient on groups protesting the EU rejection, raised rates some 40% and threatened to retroactively demand Ukraine pay the higher price for the previous 3 months’ gas. This is far from a unique situation.


4. Republic of Armenia is a Christian state more or less surrounded by Muslim states and views Russia as an important ally.


5. Republic of Belarus remains an authoritarian state with a communist (and failed) economy and is increasingly dependent on Russian support.


6. Georgia is having to deal with Russian troops within its borders supporting two separatist regions.


7. Republic of Moldova is having to deal with Russian troops within its borders supporting ethnic Russians in eastern Moldova who’ve declared independence.


8. Ukraine  is not only dealing with Russian troops within its borders but also with Russia’s outright annexation of parts of its country in Crimea.


9. The region’s economy is currently weak, commitment to democracy is uncertain and nationalist movements threaten stability. The transition has been difficult but it continues for now.





Optional Resources


Political Resources on the Net

Google's Arts & Culture collection virtual world museum tours

Noah's ark

Legend says Armenia, a mountainous country in the South Caucasus mountains, was established in the Ararat region on which Noah's Ark is said to have come to rest after the flood, by the great-great-grandson of Noah. True or not, few nations have histories as ancient, complex and laced with tragedy as Armenia. Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia, is home to Etchmiadzin Cathedral. Armenia's Mother Church, traditionally dated 303 CE, is considered the oldest cathedral in the world. Khor Virap, an ancient monastery, is the perfect place to observe Mount Ararat. | A mountain village beckons in Nagorno-Karabakh | Culture | You might be interested in The Promise (2016, 2:14), which is set during the final years of the Ottoman Empire and during the Armenian genocide that took place. | For Nagorno-Karabakh’s Dueling Sides, Living Together Is ‘Impossible’

Belarus | History and geography | Belarus: Independent voice wins Nobel Prize | Human Rights Watch: Belarus | Culture | Take a trip to Belarus, and visit an often overlooked country that gained its independence from the USSR in 1991 but is forming close economic and political ties to Russia. | Who'd be an MP in Europe's last dictatorship?

Chechnya (or Chechen Republic), a region in North Caucasus, has been home to a violent and long-running rebel campaign to break away from Russia. | Borderless Blogger: A bridge to the Chechen people | Historical and natural monuments of mountainous Chechnya | The views of Grozny city rebuilt after the war  | History and geography | Human Rights Watch: Chechnya | Robinson Library: Republic of Chechnya | Black Widows | The conflict between Russia and Chechnya | The Story Behind a Chechen Wedding That Transfixed Russia and Beyond

cartoon about Putin in Georgia and Ukraine

Travel to Georgia. Or, here. Along with Armenia and Azerbaijan, Georgia is located in the Caucasus GeorgiaMountains area that divides Russia from Central Asia. Ethnic Georgians make up the majority of the population. The About Georgia website was developed by a librarian in Georgia to tell others around the world about his homeland. It contains some interesting information about the country as well as the Georgian Constitution and information that might be of interest to a visitor. It also has links to several other sites relating to Georgia. Some of it is still under construction and only available in either Russian or Georgian. | Vegan cafe in Tbilisi, Georgia, stormed by group armed with sausages, meat and fish | Georgia needs support from the US and the West | If you’re interested in the 2008 Russian invasion of Georgia, catch a re-run of 2011’s 5 Days of War (153 min) … very goodRussians in Moldova | Tbilisi Georgia Cam | A Glimpse inside the Secluded World of a Georgian Convent

Moldova | One of the poorest nations in Europe and situated between Romania and Ukraine, Moldova is a melting pot of ethnicities and cultures and has long been a geopolitical battleground … threatened by the east and forgotten by the west. Although independent from the USSR since 1991, Russian forces have remained on Moldovan territory east of the Nistru (Dnister) River “supporting” the Slavic majority population, mostly Ukrainians and Russians, who have proclaimed a Transnistria republic. | Moldova, the Next Ukraine | The Demons of Moldova | Letter from: Chişinău, the Moldovan city with an uncertain future | Could Moldova Be The Next Crimea?

Russian Federation Social-Economic Regions provides access to information organized on the basic regions of modern day Russia. It includes several maps, access to topography, and information about each of the republic centers. Clicking on the links brings up general information about that center as well as additional links to information about the area, including history and current issues. | Russia 'must' do this. Russia 'must' do that. Or else what? | How Vladimir Putin is building alliances around the world | Bucknell University’s Russian Studies Material | Collapse of the USSR 10 years on | Russia's naval base in Ukraine: Critical asset or point of pride? | Russian forces in Ukraine: What does the Black Sea Fleet in Crimea look like? | Surveys show Russian nationalism is on the rise | Where the river runs red: can Norilsk, Russia's most polluted city, come clean? | Putin's paranoia: fear and loathing inside the Kremlin | The USSR in 10 buildings: Constructivist communes to Stalinist skyscrapers | Slow-motion wrecks: how thawing permafrost is destroying Arctic cities | Dirty, isolated and freezing: life in Arctic circle city – in pictures  | Wild Russia (47:07) is a journey about nature across this enormous land that goes from Europe to the Pacific Ocean. | Take a virtual tour along the Ket River in Siberia, home to a range of solitary settlements.

The new Russia and freedom of religion: The survival of animism in Russia, and its destruction in the West | Actually, the Russian state and church did persecute pagans. | Threats to Mari Animism | Putin vs. Democracy: Democracy is on the decline worldwide and Vladimir Putin is a big factor. | The Russian Empire Must Die | Russia’s Dangerous Decline | Putin's Empire Starts to Crumble

Moscow is the capital and most populous city of Russia. The city is also the major political, economic, cultural, religious, financial, educational and transportation centre ofMoscow Russia. It is located by the Moskva River in the European part of Russia. Moscow is the world's most populated inland city, as well as the northernmost and coldest megacity on earth. The city is well known for its architecture, particularly its historic buildings such as Saint Basil's Cathedral with its brightly colored domes. With over 40% of its territory covered by greenery, it is one of the greenest capitals and major cities in the world, having the largest forest in an urban area within its borders. The city has served as the capital of a progression of states, from the medieval Grand Duchy of Moscow and the subsequent Tsardom of Russia to the Soviet Union and the contemporary Russian Federation. | Explore the capital of the Russian Federation with its rich and varied culture. | The Kremlin is the seat of government for the old Soviet Union and for the new Russian Federation. Take a look at The Kremlin and enjoy everything from panoramic views of Red Square to a 3-D layout of the Kremlin itself. | Moscow Russia Cam

Saint Petersburg (formerly Petrograd, then Leningrad) is often described as the most Westernized city of Russia, as well as its cultural capital. Located on the Neva River at St Petersburgthe head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea, it is the northernmost city in the world with a population of over one million. In 1611, Swedish colonists built a fortress at the mouth of the Neva River. A small town grew up around it. Peter the Great was interested in seafaring and maritime affairs, and he intended to have Russia gain a seaport in order to be able to trade with other maritime nations. In 1703, during the Great Northern War, Peter the Great captured the town and built the Peter and Paul Fortress, which became the first brick and stone building of the new city. The city was built by conscripted peasants from all over Russia. Tens of thousands of serfs died building the city. Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Saint Petersburg in 1712. With one brief exception, it remained Russia’s capital until the communist revolution of 1917. | Russian cities

Considered the deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal, located in east central Siberia, is one of the largest lakes in Eurasia. | Surviving in Isolation, Where the Steppe Has Turned to Sand

In April 1986, the nuclear reactor at Chernobyl, Ukraine, suffered a catastrophic accident. It is hard for most of us to grasp the magnitude of this event, but it has been estimated that nearly 50 tons of radioactive material were released at Chernobyl, 10 times the fallout of Hiroshima. The effects of the accident will be felt for many years to come. See also the US Department of Energy.

Seconds From Disaster - Meltdown at Chernobyl (47:08)

Ukraine is passing through a choppy period in its post-independence story and one which is fascinating to watch. History is everywhere in this vast land, whether it be among the Gothic churches of Lviv, the Stalinist facades of Kyiv, the remnants of the once-animated Jewish culture of West Ukraine or the more recent Soviet high-rises just about anywhere. | Defiant Ukrainian soldiers sing national anthem as Russian troops storm their base in Crimea | For Ukraine, an independence day marked by deep public frustration | Kyiv Post | The Scattering of Ukraine's Jews | Using Adoptions, Russia Turns Ukrainian Children into Spoils of War | What We’re Reading About One Year of War in Ukraine

Ukraine | The city of Sevastopol is located on Heraclea Peninsula in the southwestern part of the Crimea. In the 5th century BCE the prosperous fort at SevastopolGreek colony of Chersoneses was located on this spot. Today it is the main Russian Navy Port on the Black Sea and the largest port on the Black Sea, as well as an industrial hub and a center for science, technology, history, culture and recreation. As a result of the 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia, the city is administered as a federal city, although Ukraine and most of the international community continue to regard Sevastopol as a city within Ukraine. Relatively small at 334 square miles, Sevastopol's unique naval and maritime features provide the basis for a robust economy. The city is an important center for marine biology; in particular, dolphins have been studied and trained in the city since the end of WWII. | Ukraine crisis: why Russia sees Crimea as its naval stronghold | Ukraine's residents struggle to survive (2:30) | The volunteer war fighters of Ukraine (2:46) | Ukraine's sharp divisions| Why Crimea is so dangerous | The shortsightedness of NATO's war with Serbia over Kosovo haunts Ukraine | Crimea is not Kosovo | How Russia’s Military Is Positioned to Threaten Ukraine (01/07/2022) | This video shows the scale of Russia’s military buildup around Ukraine (02/2022). | What does Russia want in Ukraine? Explore the causes of the conflict and the history of the relationship between the two countries. | How Seriously Should We Take Putin’s Nuclear Threat in Ukraine?






Copyright © 1996 Amy S Glenn
Last updated:   09/04/2023 1900

Creative Commons License