From the frozen Arctic tundra of Siberia to the deserts of Kazakhstan, size and climate help define Russia and its former republics.
Russia, the largest country in the world, It stretches over 6,000 miles from the Baltic Sea to the North Pacific. Russia and the former republics cover 1/6 of earth’s land surface - 8 1/2 million square miles - three times the land area of U.S. - region crosses 11 time zones Russia is transcontinental (Europe and Asia)
Russia boasts an enormous variety of landscapes, ranging from tundra to steppes, from deserts to mountains, from glaciers to volcanoes.
Often referred to as Western or European Russia. 75% of Russians live in European Russia. The Ural Mountains form a natural barrier between Europe and Asia. Much of Russia’s largest cities are in the Europe side including Moscow and St. Petersburg. Kiev is a major city in the Ukraine.
St Petersburg is sometimescalled the "Venice of theNorth" as it has many canalsand hundreds of bridges.
Moscow is the capital and largest city in Russia.The Kremlin is the center of government.
Most Russians are Orthodox Christian and St. Basil’s Cathedral is a large, beautiful building in Moscow’s Red Square. Because of its many towers it almost looks like a fairy-tale castle or gingerbread house. The “onion dome” shape is found often in Russian church architecture.
Red square is the central area in Moscow. It has a rich history as many events have taken place in the square over time.
Siberia or Eastern Russia is the massive section of central and Eastern Russia. It makes up roughly 77% of the land area in Russia but only 25% of the population. It is very rich in natural resources.
Siberia has huge reserves of coal, iron ore, other metals The region is also a leading producer of oil and natural gas - petroleum deposits around Caspian Sea among world’s largest Forests have 1/5 of world’s timber Large producer of hydroelectric power due to rivers
The taiga or boreal forest in Russia is the largest forest on earth, mostly coniferous - home to sable, fox, ermine, elk, bears, wolves and even tigers!
Siberia is desolate and has a large variation in temperatures that makes life difficult for its inhabitants. -cityof Verkhoyansk can be -90° F in winter, 94° F in summer - most of the time it is cold and temperatures rarely exceed 50° F
Cold weather has impact on daily life - Siberians use frozen lakes and rivers as roads for part of year The region has layer of permafrost that can reach depths of 1,500 feet
Winters are especially harsh in Russia. Harsh climate has even helped Russia fight off invaders For example, in the early 1800s, French leader Napoleon Bonaparte conquers Europe Bonaparte invades Russia in 1812 with 600,000 men - arrives in Moscow in September, as winter begins - Russians burn the city leaving no shelter - Tired, cold and without supplies, Napoleon retreats. - Only 40,000 of Napoleon’s troops survive. - This is considered one of the greatest military disaster in history
The Volga river is longest river in Europe. -15thlongest in the world - flows 2,300 miles south from Moscow - carries 60% of Russia’s river traffic - empties into the Caspian Sea
Caspian Sea is 750- mile-long saltwater lake -largest inland sea in world
Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world. - Over 1 mile from surface to the bottom - said to contain 20% of the earth’s fresh water! -very clean lake, home to over 1200 unique plant and animal species
During winter Lake Baikal freezes over and is used as a highway!
From modest beginnings, Russia expanded to become the largest country in the world. Long ago, people known as the Slavs settled in Russia. Settlements were relatively small until the Vikings settled in the region and adopt Slavic culture. Other peoples settle into the region as well, including the Mongols.
The Mongols control much of the region until Ivan the Great expels them in the 1500’s. Ivan the Great takes the position of czar or emperor. Czar is literally the Russian translation of the name Caesar.
Russia continues to expand its empire until it reaches the Pacific in the early 1700’s.
Despite its large expansion, Russia’s technology advancement does not match. Czar Peter vows to modernize Russia and make it into a great power. He moves the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea. St. Petersburg provides sea access to Europe: “window to the West”.
Peter also strengthened the army and even created Russia’s first navy. He introduced many new European customs to reform and modernize Russia. By Peter’s death in 1725, Russia was one of the most important European states.
Under Czar Nicholas II imperial Russia goes from being one of the foremost great powers of the world to an economic and military disaster. Russia is slow to industrialize in the late 1800s-early 1900’s, trailing Europe by half a century. Eventual industrialization brings harsh working conditions and low wages. The peoples’ unrest and anger with czar grows.
Czar Nicholas II came to power in 1896. He had a large family, four daughters; Olga, Tatiana, Maria and Anastasia before he had his son and heir Alexei. Alexei, however, was born with a rare blood disease known as hemophilia.
The royal family used many doctors to try and cure Alexei’s ailment; however, all treatments failed. Desperate for a cure, Czarina Alexandra turned to mystics and holy men. One of these men was Grigori Rasputin.
Rasputin was believed to have healing power through prayer. The Czar and Czarina believed Rasputin could actually speak with god and was able to heal Alexei. It seemed as though it was working as Alexei did seem to find relief in Rasputin. Rasputin would then play an important role in the royal house, so much, in fact, that he was said to have had a strong influence on the Czar’s decisions concerning politics.
Many people feared that Rasputin’s influence was affecting the Czar’s decision making. Russia had fallen on hard times and on top of that, they were involved in World War I. The people of Russia suffered greatly. They were cold and starving as Russia’s economy was in a depression. A group of nobles decided that Rasputins influence over the Czar had made him a far too dangerous threat to the empire.
The legends surrounding the death of Rasputin are perhaps even more mysterious and bizarre than his life. The nobles lured Rasputin to one of their homes and led him down into the basement where they fed him cakes and red wine laced with cyanide. Rasputin was unaffected even though there was enough poison to kill five men! Determined to finish the job, a noble shot Rasputin in the back.
They left his body in the basement and came back for him hours later. To their surprise, Rasputin’s eyes re-opened and he lunged at them. The men opened fire and shot Rasputin three more times. As they went to check on his body, they were again surprised to find that he was still alive and struggling to get up. They clubbed him into submission and even castrated him (gross!). They then bound his body, wrapped him in a carpet and threw him into the icy Neva River. Three days later, Rasputin’s body was found. Bloody, badly beaten, poisoned and shot 4 times. He had broken loose from his bindings and the carpet and appeared to have been trying to claw his way out of the river. An autopsy revealed that the official cause of death was drowning.
In 1917 amidst World War I, conditions in Russia had become extremely bad and a collapse was imminent. The government continued to concentrate on the war effort while the people at home suffered. There were food and supplies shortages. Inflation was at an all time high. An egg cost four times as much as it did just a few years prior. The final straw came when the government shut down public railroads to use for war.
In Moscow, the shortage of food and severe winter caused a mob of people to start breaking into stores. People marched through the streets with red banners screaming “Down with the government! Down with the Czar!” The riot was soon a full fledged revolution as disgruntled soldiers in the army soon joined in. They wanted Czar Nicholas to abdicate, (step down).
Czar Nicholas had no choice but to step down as Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik party seized power. The Bolsheviks were a socialist political party that represented the working class of Russia. They saw a quick rise to power as the economic crisis plagued the country in the early 1900’s. The preached discipline and strong military.
The Czar and his family were exiled to a mansion in the Ural Mountains. There, they were held captive and guarded by soldiers. At 2:00 AM one night in 1918, the Czar was told to head to the basement with his family. They were told that revolutionaries were marching towards the mansion and it may be fired upon.
Once they were in the basement, the executioners then came in. It was then explained to them that they were condemned to death. They then shot and killed the royal family.
In 1979 the bodies of Czar Nicholas II, the Czarina and three of their daughters were found in a grave in central Russia. Missing were the bodies of Alexei and Anastasia. It was believed that at the time of the execution, the royal family was wearing garments with jewels sewn into them. It is possible that bullets did not mortally wound Anastasia and she was able to escape.
Over the years, many women came forward claiming to be Anastasia but none could prove it and/or DNA evidence would prove they were in fact not related to the royal family. In 2007, two more bodies of a young boy and girl were discovered. In 2008, DNA evidence proved that the bodies were in fact Alexei and Anastasia.
The revolt in 1917 ends the reign of the czars. Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik party assumes control of the government and the economy. The Bolsheviks follow ideas of Karl Marx, a German philosopher This idea is known as Communism - feel capitalism is doomed because few are wealthy, many are poor - predict communism—shared property, wealth —will replace it
Communism is a social and political structure in which classes are abolished and property is commonly controlled. It advocates and aims to create a common society in which everyone is has equal share. - central government makes major economic decisions - controls the wealth: land, mines, factories, banks, transportation - decides what products, crops are produced; sets prices
Communist Party in Russia then organizes diverse peoples of Russian empire Forms Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR)
Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the Bolshevik party who overthrew the Russian government in 1917. He headed the Soviet state in its initial years. His body was preserved and put on public display after his death in 1924. It rests in a mausoleum in next to the Kremlin in Red Square today.
Following Lenin’s death in 1924, Joseph Stalin takes over USSR. Under Stalin’s reign during the 1930’s and 40’s is known as “The Great Terror”. During this time period, millions of “enemies of the state” are executed and/or sent to the Siberian Gulags. It is estimated the that around 20-30 million people died from execution or repression under Stalin’s regime.
During the Soviet regime, the GULAG was a government agency that administered several prison/labor camps in Siberia. These camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners. The Gulag system is infamous as the place where many millions died from inhumane work conditions and hunger.
Stalin leads USSR into WWII and becomes allies with the U.S. and Britain. The USSR suffers greatly from the war. Around 25 million Russian soldiers and civilians die as a result of this conflict.
Vasily Zaytsez was a famous Soviet soldier during WWII and perhaps the most famous sniper of all time. He is said to have around 600 sniper kills. He gained notoriety in the battle of Stalingrad which he was said to have around 250 kills. His exploits are portrayed by Jude Law in the movie “Enemy at the Gates”.
After the war, many Eastern European countries start to adopt communist ideals. Tensions grow as U.S. fears worldwide Communist expansion. This leads to the Cold War, a conflict between the U.S. and USSR that never actually becomes open warfare. During the Cold War, the U.S. and USSR try to best each other by increasing the size of their militaries. Tensions get so high that it seems as though nuclear war is imminent.
During the Cold War, both countries vie for nuclear superiority and increase their arsenals. The idea was that by building more and more bombs; eventually, one side would stand down. This, actually, will never happen. While it is a little unclear about who was bigger or stronger, it is speculated that the U.S. had many more bombs, while the Soviets had more destructive ones such as the Tsar (Czar) Bomba.
Not only was the Cold War a race to increase military prowess, it was also a race for technological prowess. This included the race to be the first country into space. The Soviets were first to send the first satellite known as Sputnik into space.
The Soviets bested the United States once again when they sent Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as first human in space on April 12, 1961. The U.S. would have been the first, but instead we sent a monkey on January 31, 1961.
After the Cuban Revolution in the early 1960’s, the new Cuban government adopted communism. Shortly thereafter, the Soviets started building nuclear missile silos on the island. Through secret, spy photographs, the U.S. found out about the missiles.
Angered by these actions, the U.S. demanded the Soviets withdraw from Cuba. The Soviets refused and it seemed a conflict was imminent. Both sides believed that only armed combat could resolve the issue. President Kennedy was even set to invade Cuba and remove the missiles by force. Just when it looked as if nuclear war was going to occur, the two sides came to an agreement. The Soviets would remove their missiles from Cuba as long as the Americans removed their own from Turkey.
In 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev “restructures” to allow more economic, political freedom. This is known as Perestroika. This causes a domino effect and the people (especially those in the smaller republics) demand independence -this leads to collapse of Soviet Union, end of Cold War in 1991 Region divides into 15 independent republics. Russia becomes a democracy and remains that today.
The collapse of the powerful Soviet government has left many of its former republics facing difficult ethnic, economic, and environmental challenges.
Many of the former republics of the USSR located in the Caucuses region experience crime and religious or ethnic conflict following the collapse of the USSR.
The Caucasus region is about the size of California but is home to over 50 different ethnic groups. These groups fight violently for independent territories after USSR falls. There is much violence is in the Russian republic of Chechnya. Chechnya remained part of Russia following the collapse of the USSR but yearns for independence.
The people of Chechnya differ from most Russians. Because of their geographic location, they are more closely ethnically related with the other people of the Caucasus region and the Middle East rather than the Slavic Russians. Most Chechens are Muslim.
During the early 1990’s, Russia sends its military to Chechnya to ensure they do not declare independence. Chechen rebels hide out in the mountains and carry out attacks on Russian forces. In 1999, bombings in Moscow force Russia to once again send its military to Chechnya While Chechnya remains under control, the region is still in constant turmoil.
On January 24th, 2011, a terrorist set off a suicide bomb at Moscow’s busy Domodedovo Airport. The attack killed 36 people and injured 180. 2 weeks later, a leader of a Chechen Muslim militant group claimed responsibility. The leader says the Muslims of the Caucasus are at war with the Russian "occupation" and says the attacks will continue.
The former Soviet Union’s nuclear programs have become a problem The dissolution of the USSR means that not 1, but 15 countries now have nuclear capabilities. - nuclear weapons scattered throughout the republics make it hard to keep track of them - nuclear power stations are not being properly maintained - nuclear waste dumps are decaying These issues pose a threat to the region’s people and environment.
The breakup of the USSR means that several countries now have control of nuclear weapons making it difficult to keep track of them. Where are the weapons? Are they safe? Where are the nuclear scientists? Many fear that the weapons made be sold, stolen or misused by the wrong people (terrorists or countries with unstable governments.)
Russia and the former republics are also facing problems with aging, poorly built nuclear reactors. Radioactive waste and dumping has also been a problem since the dissolution of the USSR.
In 1986, a Soviet nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine experienced a meltdown. The resulting fire sent a plume of radioactive fallout into the atmosphere which spread over a large geographic area (over 100,000 square miles are said to have been affected!) It is the worst nuclear accident in history.
The nuclear accident at has a variety of effects on people, animals and the environment. People in the effected area are more prone to cancer and birth defects from the radiation. Mutations have also occurred in plants and animals after the plant explosion. Leaves changed shape and some animals were born with physical deformities.
Many nuclearpower plantsare same designas one atChernobyl.Will there beanotherdisaster?
Following the fall of the USSR, Russia adopts capitalism. The government sells businesses to private individuals. Russian mafia controls many businesses (illegal and untaxed). Without limits, prices of many goods rise over 250%. This causes Russia to go into a severe depression in the 1990’s. Even today, up to 40% of Russians live far below the poverty line. Many Russians are wondering if things might have been better when they were under Soviet control.
With the economy in poor shape and instability at it’s borders, Russia has started to re-arm it’s military. Recently, Russia’s government placed over $400 billion back into its military. The hope is to create new jobs, boost the economy and make Russia a military super power that it once was. Are we headed for another Cold War?