Russia

Russia, Russian Federation is a transcontinental country extending over much of northern Eurasia (Europe and Asia). With an area of 17,075,400 km, Russia is by far the largest country in the world, covering almost twice the total area of the next-largest country, Canada, and has enormous mineral and energy resources. Russia has the world's ninth-largest population. Russia shares land borders with the following countries (counter-clockwise from northwest to southeast): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It is also close to the United States (the state of Alaska), Sweden, and Japan across relatively small stretches of water (the Bering Strait, the Baltic Sea, and La Perouse Strait, respectively).

Politics

According to the Constitution, the politics of Russia (the Russian Federation) take place in a framework of a federal presidential republic, whereby the President of Russia is the head of state and the Prime Minister of Russia is the head of government. 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.

The president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (eligible for a second term); election last held 14 March 2004 (next to be held in March 2008). Ministries of the Government or "Government" composed of the premier and his deputies, ministers, and selected other individuals; all are appointed by the president. Parliament, termed the Federal Assembly or Federalnoye Sobraniye, consists of two chambers; the 450-member State Duma or Gosudarstvennaya Duma and the 176-member Federation Council or Sovet Federatsii. Constitutional justice in the court is based on the equality of all citizens. Judges are independent and subject only to the law. Trials are to be open, and the accused is guaranteed a defense. Despite Freedom House's listing of Russia being "not free", Alvaro Gil-Robles (former head of the Council of Europe human rights division) states "The fledgling Russian democracy is still, of course, far from perfect, but its existence and its successes cannot be denied." The Economist rates Russia as a "hybrid regime", which they consider "some form of democratic government".

Geography and climate

Topography

The Russian Federation stretches across much of the north of the supercontinent of Eurasia. Because of its size Russia displays both monotony and diversity. As with its topography, its climates, vegetation, and soils span vast distances. From north to south the East European Plain is clad sequentially in tundra, coniferous forest (taiga), mixed forest, broadleaf forest, grassland (steppe), and semidesert (fringing the Caspian Sea) as the changes in vegetation reflect the changes in climate. Siberia supports a similar sequence but lacks the mixed forest. Most of Siberia is taiga. Russia has the world's largest forest reserves. It is often called "the lungs of Europe", second only to the Amazon Rainforest in the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs. It provides a huge amount of oxygen for not just Europe, but the world. With access to three of the world's oceans—the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific—Russian fishing fleets are a major contributor to the world's fish supply. The Caspian is the source of what is considered the finest caviar in the world.

Most of the land consists of vast plains, both in the European part and the part of Asian territory 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. Mountain ranges are found along the southern borders, such as the Caucasus (containing Mount Elbrus, Russia's and Europe's highest point at 5,642 m 18,511 ft) and the Altai, and in the eastern parts, such as the Verkhoyansk Range or the volcanoes on Kamchatka. The more central and mineral rich Ural Mountains, a north-south range that form the primary divide between Europe and Asia, are also notable. The country's potential in agriculture is enormous—with a mere 2.2% of the world's population, Russia possesses 8.9% of its arable land.

Russia has an extensive coastline of over 37,000 kilometres (23,000 mi) along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Baltic, Black and Caspian seas. Some smaller bodies of water are part of the open oceans; the Barents Sea, White Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea and East Siberian Sea are part of the Arctic, whereas the Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan belong to the Pacific Ocean. Major islands and archipelagos include Novaya Zemlya, the Franz Josef Land, the New Siberian Islands, Wrangel Island, the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. (See List of islands of Russia). The Diomede Islands (one controlled by Russia, the other by the United States) are just three kilometers (1.9 mi) apart, and Kunashir Island (controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan) is about twenty kilometres (12 mi) from Hokkaido.

Russia is a water-rich country. Russia has thousands of rivers and inland bodies of water, providing it with one of the world's largest surface-water resources. The most prominent of Russia's bodies of fresh water is Lake Baikal, the world's deepest and most capacious freshwater lake. Lake Baikal alone contains over one fifth of the world's liquid fresh surface water. Truly unique on Earth, Baikal is home to more than 1,700 species of plants and animals, two thirds of which can be found nowhere else in the world. Many rivers flow across Russia; see Rivers of Russia. Of its 100,000 rivers, Russia contains some of the world's longest. The Volga is the most famous—not only because it is the longest river in Europe but also because of its major role in Russian history. Major lakes include Lake Baikal, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega; see List of lakes in Russia. Russia has a wide natural resource base including major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, timber and many strategic minerals.

Climate

Because of its size, Russia's climate displays both monotony and diversity. The climate of the Russian Federation formed under the influence of several determining factors. One of the most important is the enormous size and remoteness of many areas of the sea, resulting in the dominance of the continental climate. The climates of both European and Asian Russia are continental except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstructing the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean and the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences. As a result, much of the territory there are only two distinct seasons—winter and summer; Spring and autumn are usually brief periods of change between extremely low temperatures and extremely high. The coldest month is January (on the shores of the sea—February), the warmest usually is July. Great ranges of temperature are typical. In winter temperatures get colder both from south to north and from west to east. Summers can be quite hot and humid, even in Siberia. A small part of Black Sea coast around Sochi is considered in Russia to have subtropical climate. The continental interiors are the driest areas.