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Europe, Russia

Russia or Russian Federation (Russian Rossiyskaya Federatsiya), independent republic in eastern Europe and northern Asia, the world's largest country by area. Russia was once the largest and the most prominent republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, or Soviet Union). In 1991 the USSR broke apart and Russia became an independent country.

The USSR had a totalitarian political system in which Communist Party leaders held political and economic power. The state owned all companies and land, and the government controlled production of goods and other aspects of the economy, a system known as a command, or planned, economy. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia began transforming itself into a more democratic society with an economy based on market mechanisms and principles. Russia has made many successful changes: There have been free elections at all levels of government; private ownership of property has been legalized; and large segments of the economy are now privately owned.

The transformation is far from complete, however. In the economic sphere, privatized assets have not been allocated fairly among the population and privatization of land is still in its infancy. Russia must also deal with the large-scale environmental destruction and other problems inherited from the Soviet Union. In the political arena, a stable society based on citizen involvement in local, regional, and national affairs has yet to develop.

The transformation has affected the people of Russia in a variety of ways. Under the Soviet system, Russians became accustomed to having the government define many aspects of their lives. For many, the collapse of the USSR and the Communist ideal created an ideological void, and Russians increasingly turned to traditional and nontraditional faiths to fill that void. The post-Soviet era has also seen an overall decline in Russia's population, despite the influx of immigrants from other parts of the former Soviet Union. Russia has the lowest life expectancy and the highest infant mortality rate of the industrialized countries. In addition, the incidence of several infectious diseases increased markedly in the post-Soviet era. The social welfare system, already constrained by inadequate funding, was greatly challenged to combat these growing problems.

In general, Russia's climate is similar to that of Canada. Much of the land lies north of the 50th parallel of latitude and far from the moderating influences of oceans. Like Canada, although colder and with greater temperature extremes in many places, most of Russia has a harsh continental climate. Although climate, and to some degree soils, limit the country's agricultural wealth, mineral wealth is considerable: Russia's mineral resources are unmatched by any other country.

Russia's borders measure more than 20,100 km (12,500 mi). On the north Russia is bounded by extensions of the Arctic Ocean: the Barents, Kara, Laptev, East Siberian, and Chukchi seas. On the east the country is bounded by the Pacific Ocean and several of its extensions: the Bering Strait (which separates Russia from Alaska), the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Sea of Japan (East Sea). In the extreme southeast Russia abuts the northeastern tip of North Korea. On the south it is bounded by China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the Black Sea. On the southwest it is bounded by Ukraine, and on the west by Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, the Gulf of Finland, and Finland. In the extreme northwest, Russia is bounded by Norway. Lithuania and Poland border Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea.

Administratively, Russia includes 21 republics; 6 territories known as krays; 10 national areas called okrugs; 49 regions, or oblasts; 1 autonomous oblast; and 2 cities with federal status. The capital and largest city is Moscow.

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