- Name the major cities, rivers, and economic base of Russia’s core region.
- Identify the economic base of cities in the Eastern Frontier and the identity of the world’s most voluminous freshwater lake.
- Describe the physical attributes of Siberia and the Far East.
- Explain why Chechnya has been at war with Russia twice since 1994.
- Learn why Russia invaded Georgia in 2008 and discover the role of fossil fuels in the economies of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The Core Region
Most of Russia’s population and its major industries are located west of the Ural Mountains on the Russian Plain. Known as Russia’s geographic core, this includes the Moscow region, the Volga region, and the Ural Mountain region. Moscow, Russia’s capital city, anchors a central industrial area that is home to more than fifty million people. Moscow alone has more than ten million residents, with about thirteen million in its metropolitan area, making it slightly smaller than the Los Angeles, California, metro area. A ring of industrial cities surrounding Moscow contains vital production centers of Russian manufacturing. During the Communist era, Moscow expanded from its nineteenth-century core (although the city dates from at least the twelfth century) and became an industrial city with planned neighborhoods. This world-class city has an extensive subway and freeway system that is expanding to meet current growth demands. Although rents, commodities, and domestic goods had fixed prices during the Communist era, the Soviet Union’s collapse changed all that. Today Moscow is one of the most expensive places to live in the world, with prices based on supply and demand. Many want to live in Moscow, but it is financially out of reach for many Russians.
Russia’s second-largest city, with a population of about five million, is St. Petersburg. Located on the Baltic Sea, it is western Russia’s leading port city. The city was renamed Petrograd (1914–24) and Leningrad (1924–91) but today is often called Petersburg, or just “Peter” for short. Peter the Great built the city with the help of European architects in the early eighteenth century to rival other European capitals, and he made it the capital of the Russian Empire. Named after St. Peter in the Bible (not Peter the Great), it is a cultural center for Russia and a major tourist destination. It is also known for shipbuilding, oil and gas trade, manufacturing, and finance. Its greatest tragedy took place when it was under siege for twenty-nine months by the German military during World War II. About one million civilians died of starvation or during the bombardment, and hundreds of thousands fled the city, leaving the city nearly empty by the end of the siege.
To the far north of St. Petersburg on the Barents Sea are the cities of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk. Murmansk is a major military port for Russia’s navy and nuclear submarine fleet. Relatively warm water from the North Atlantic drift circles around Norway to keep this northern port city fairly free of ice. Arkhangelsk (which literally means “archangel”), used as a port for lumber exports, has a much shorter ice-free season than Murmansk. Both of these cities are in Russia’s far north, with long winters and exceedingly brief summers.
The Volga River flows through the core region of Russia, providing transportation, fresh water, and fishing. The Volga is the longest river in Europe at 2,293 miles, and it drains most of Russia’s western core region. This river has been a vital link in the transportation system of Russia for centuries and connects major industrial centers from the Moscow region to the south through an extensive network of canals and other waterways. The Volga River flows into the Caspian Sea, and a canal links the Volga with the Black Sea through a connecting canal via the Don River.
At the eastern edge of Russia’s European core lie the Ural Mountains, which act as a natural divide between Europe and Asia. These low-lying mountains have an abundance of minerals and fossil fuels, which make the Ural Mountains ideal for industrial development. The natural resources of the Urals and the surrounding area provide raw materials for manufacturing and export. The eastern location kept these resources out of the hands of the Nazis during World War II, and the resources themselves helped in the war effort. Oil and natural gas exploration and development have been extensive across Russia’s core region and have greatly increased Russia’s export profits.