Armenia Belarus Czech Rep Estonia Georgia Iran Italy Jordan Kazakhstan Latvia Lebanon Lithuania Russia Syria Turkey Turkmenistan Ukraine UAE Uzbekistan

map map of Russia, thumbnail
flag flag of Russia
coat of arms russian coat of arms, thumbnail

About Russia

General Information -- Geography -- Climate -- Religion -- Language -- Population and Ethnic Composition-- Government -- Administrative Division -- Time Zone -- Currency Exchange and Credit Cards -- Capital City -- Official Holidays -- Airports and Public Transportation -- Traditional Cuisine -- Brief History

General Information

Located where Europe begins slip away into Asia, Russia is an essential and fascinating destination for anyone wanting to see another side of the European continent. In all its awkward, mysterious glory. Moscow and St. Petersburg are two of Europe’s biggest cities, and yet are as unlike each other as it is possible to imagine.



Russia shares land borders with the following countries (counter-clockwise from NW to SE): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It is also close to the United States, Canada, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Sweden, and Japan across stretches of water.
Most of the land consists of vast plains, both in the European part and the Asian part that is largely known as Siberia. These plains are predominantly steppe to the south and heavily forested to the north, with tundra along the northern coast. The permafrost (areas of Siberia and the Far East) occupies more than half of territory of Russia. Mountain ranges are found along the southern borders, such as the Caucasus and the Altai, and in the eastern parts, such as the Verkhoyansk Range or the volcanoes on Kamchatka. The more central Ural Mountains, a north-south range that form the primary divide between Europe and Asia, are also notable.
Russia has an extensive coastline of over 37,000 kilometres along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as more or less inland seas such as the Baltic, Black and Caspian seas.


Russia is the coldest country in the world. The mid-annual temperature is −5.5°C (22°F). For comparison, the mid-annual temperature in Iceland is 1.2°C (34°F) and in Sweden is 4°C (39°F), although the variety of climates within Russia makes such comparison somewhat misleading.



The Russian Orthodox Church is the dominant Christian religion in the Federation. Islam is the second most widespread religion. Other religions include various Protestant churches, Judaism, Roman Catholicism and Buddhism. Induction into religion takes place primarily along ethnic lines. Ethnic Russians are mainly Orthodox whereas most people of Turkic and Caucasian extraction are Muslim. However, after years of religious suppression under communism, the observation of these religious creeds is very low.



The Russian language is the only official state language, but the individual republics have often made their native language co-official next to Russian. Cyrillic alphabet is the only official script, which means that these languages must be written in Cyrillic in official texts.
Russian belongs to the family of Indo-European languages. Within the Slavic family, Russian is one of three living members of the East Slavic group, the other two being Belarusian and Ukrainian.
Written examples of East Slavonic are attested from the 10th century onwards. While Russian preserves much of East Slavonic synthetic-inflexional structure and a Common Slavonic word base, modern Russian exhibits a large stock of borrowed international vocabulary for politics, science, and technology. A language of great political importance in the 20th century, Russian is one of the official languages of the United Nations.

Population and Ethnic Composition


The Russian Federation is home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. As of the Russian Census (2002), 79.8% of the population is ethnically Russian, 3.8% Tatar, 2% Ukrainian, 1.2% Bashkir, 1.1% Chuvash, 0.9% Chechen, 0.8% Armenian. The remaining 10.3% includes those who did not specify their ethnicity as well as (in alphabetical order) Avars, Azerbaijanis, Belarusians, Buryats, Chinese, Evenks, Georgians, Germans, Greeks, Ingushes, Inuit, Jews, Kalmyks, Karelians, Kazakhs, Koreans, Maris, Mordvins, Nenetses, Ossetians, Poles, Tuvans, Udmurts, Uzbeks, Yakuts, and others. Nearly all of these groups live compactly in their respective regions; Russians are the only people significantly represented in every region of the country.



The politics of Russia (the Russian Federation) take place in a framework of a federal presidential republic, whereby the President of Russia is both head of state and head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two chambers of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation.

Administrative Division


The Russian Federation consists of a great number of different federal subjects, making a total of 88 constituent components. There are 21 republics within the federation that enjoy a high degree of autonomy on most issues and these correspond to some of Russia's numerous ethnic minorities. The remaining territory consists of 48 oblasts (provinces) and 7 krais (territories), as well as 9 autonomous okrugs (autonomous districts), and 1 autonomous oblast. Beyond these there are two federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg). Recently, seven extensive federal districts (four in Europe, three in Asia) have been added as a new layer between the above subdivisions and the national level.

Time Zone


Russia is a vast country spanning 11 time zones from GMT+2 to GMT+12. The Moscow Standard Time Zone is 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time: GMT+3
All Russian cities Time Zones are specified relative to Moscow Time.
Non-European Russia (East of the Urals) spans time zones from GMT+4 to GMT+12.
Daylight Saving Time is observed during the summer months, where the time is shifted forward by 1 hour.
After the Summer months the time is shifted back by 1 hour to Standard Time.

Currency Exchange and Credit Cards


The ruble or rouble (RUB) is the name of the currency of the Russian Federation and the two self-proclaimed republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. One rouble is divided into 100 kopeks.
Major credit cards and debit cards (including Cirrus and Maestro) are accepted by ATMs and good restaurants and hotels. Travelers cheques are possible to exchange, although at a price. Euro or US dollars are the best currencies to bring.

Capital City


Moscow is the capital of Russia and the country's principal political, economic, financial, educational, and transportation center, located on the Moskva River. The city constitutes about 7% of the Russian population or 10.4 million permanent inhabitants within the city boundaries and is the most populous city in Europe. As of 2006 Moscow is also the most expensive city in the world.
The city is in the Central Federal District located in the west part of the Russian Federation. Historically, its position was central in the Russian homeland. It was the capital of the former Soviet Union, and of Muscovite Russia, the pre-Imperial Russia. It is the site of the famous Kremlin, which serves as the center of the national government.
Moscow is also well known as the site of the Saint Basil's Cathedral, with its elegant onion domes, as well as the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The Patriarch of Moscow, whose residence is the Danilov Monastery, serves as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church. The coat of arms of Moscow depicts Saint George slaying the dragon.

Official Holidays


Airports and Public Transportation


Moscow is connected to many world cities, particularly throughout Europe. Sheremetyevo-2, Moscow’s main international airport is located 30 km from city centre, although more and more airlines arrive now to the far better terminal at Domodedovo. St Petersburg is not as well connected, but its Pulkovo airport has daily links to a large number of European capitals. There are also daily connections between Kaliningrad and both Moscow and St Petersburg.
The cheapest way to get around Russia is by bus. The enormous size of the country makes it rather unappealing, but for short trips from major cities it can be faster than the train and there are more regular connections.
Russia is crisscrossed with an extensive train network. Suburban or short-distance trains are called electrichka. Tickets can be bought at suburban ticket offices at stations. Long-distance services need to be booked in advance.

Traditional Cuisine


Russian cuisine derives its rich and varied character from the vast and multicultural expanse of Russia. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Flavorful soups and stews centered on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. These wholly native foods, along with the spices and techniques used for grilling meat and making sour clotted milk brought by the Mongols and Tatars of the thirteenth century, remained the staples for the vast majority of Russians well into the 20th century.
Russia's great expansions of territory, influence, and interest during the 16th-18th centuries brought more refined foods and culinary techniques. It was during this period that smoked meats and fish, pastry cooking, salads and green vegetables, chocolate, ice cream, wines, and liquor were imported from abroad. At least for the urban aristocracy and provincial gentry, this opened the doors for the creative integration of these new foodstuffs with traditional Russian dishes. The result is extremely varied in technique, seasoning, and combination.
From the time of Catherine the Great, every family of influence imported both the products and personnel - mainly German, Austrian, and French - to bring the finest, rarest, and most creative foods to their table. This is nowhere more evident than in the exciting, elegant, highly nuanced, and decadent repertoire of the Franco-Russian chef. Many of the foods that are considered in the West to be traditionally Russian actually come from the Franco-Russian cuisine of the 18th and 19th centuries and include such widespread dishes as Veal Orloff, Beef Stroganoff, and Sharlotka (Charlotte Russe).

Brief History


Russia has its cultural origins in Kyivan Rus, the kingdom located in what is today Ukraine and Belarus. From here the Slavs expanded into modern European Russia. The birth of the Russian state is usually identified with the founding of Novgorod in AD 862, although until 1480 Russia was overrun by the Mongols.
It was not until the Romano Dynasty (1613-1917) that Russia became the vast nation it is today – territorial expansion from the 17th to 19th centuries saw the country increase its size exponentially to include Siberia, the Arctic, the Russian Far East, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Peter the Great dragged the country kicking and screaming out of the Dark Ages, setting up a navy and building a new capital, St. Petersburg in 1703. Katherine the Great continued Peter’s progressive policies to create a world power by the mid 18th century.
The 19th century saw feverish capitalist development undermined by successively autocratic and backwards tzars. The most prominent example was Nicholas II, whose refusal to countenance Syria’s change precipitated the 1917 revolution. What began as a liberal revolution was hijacked later the same year in a coup lead by the Bolsheviks under Lenin, which resulted in the setting up of the world’s first state.
The Communist Party held power from 1917 until 1991, during which time Russia became a super power, having created the Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and absorbing some 14 neighbouring states between 1922 and 1945. The terror of Stalin, the reforms of Khrushchev and the stagnation during the Brezhnev era finally lead to Mikhail Gorbachev’s period of reform known as perestroika in 1985. Within six years the USSR had collapsed alongside communism and reformer Boris Yeltsin lead Russia into a new world of cut-throat capitalism.