How cold do you think Russia can get?
The Russian winter certainly guarantees plenty of snow and frost… but not everywhere. And it doesn’t last forever. Russia’s climate varies dramatically, from the deep Arctic chill of the far north to the searing desert heat of some inland areas further south. Yet, throughout much of the country there are only two distinct seasons – winter and summer. Spring and autumn are only brief spells of change in between. [pic]Russian winter (photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya)
Winters in Russia’s European part are nothing like as terrifying as many myths have it. In Moscow and St. Petersburg the first snow usually falls in late November and stays till early April. The average winter temperature is about -10°C. Colder snaps are not uncommon, but winter chills are compensated for by splendid summers. St. Petersburg usually enjoys 20-25°C and Moscow often swelters in highs of 35-37°C.
Down south, Russia's vast steppe is hot and dry. Winters are short but cold. In the city of Volgograd, the weather starts flirting with freezing point as early as November. But the Black Sea resort of Sochi makes up for the rest of the country with a sizzling 35°C between June and August – no wonder it is Russia’s top summer holiday spot.
On the other side of the Ural Mountains, Siberia – contrary to its popular image – isn’t the land of eternal ice. It does have a summer – actually quite a warm and pleasant one, with temperatures climbing to 20°C and higher. The weather is rather wet though, so there are mosquitoes. But, true to form, winters are severe. A deadly -50°C is not unheard of. This bone-chilling cold produces the so-called “whisper of the stars”. As you breathe out, water vapor turns into tiny icicles that fall down with a melodic tinkle.
In the Far East, inland areas can get very hot with a tropical 40°C. Coastal regions are much cooler and wetter. Winter is normally milder than in Siberia. The port of Vladivostok sees a typical -13°C in January. And if you think that’s cold – stay away from the village of Oymyakon in north-eastern Siberia. With the lowest recorded temperature of -71.2°C, it’s the world’s coldest inhabited place.
Basic facts about Russia: Language
Russian alphabet — Cyrillic
A tongue of harsh accents, alien alphabet and a reputation as being hard to crack…
Russian may be all that and more but it’s certainly not the only language spoken in Russia. About 100 others are used across the country. But you don’t need to know all of them – Russian is official throughout the nation, although there are various co-official languages in different regions. [pic]Participants wearing Russian national costumes (photo by Alexey Bondarenko)
Russian belongs to the Indo-European family, which ties it to Greek and Latin. Its closest spoken relatives are Ukrainian and Belarusian. Over the centuries, its vocabu lary and style have been influenced by German, French and English. Modern Russian also includes a large number of international political, technological and scientific terms.
Until the 1917 revolution, Russian was the only official language of the Russian Empire. In the Soviet Union, it enjoyed a privileged and unifying status. After the fall of the USSR, most ex-members reverted to their native tongues, with only Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan keeping Russian as an official language alongside their own.
The USSR’s superpower status guaranteed Russian worldwide prestige. It was taught in the Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe but after the Warsaw Pact collapsed, the language was dropped as a must-have on school programmes. Still, it remains one of the official languages of the United Nations, and is widely used across the former Soviet Union. Fed by several waves of immigrants since the beginning of the 20th century, large Russian-speaking communities, each with its own flavour of language, exist in Israel, Germany and Turkey. In the US, New York City’s Brighton Beach has long been dubbed “Little Odessa” – many of its residents having come from the Ukrainian port. It’s estimated that Russian is spoken by more than 200 million people worldwide.
The Russian alphabet, known as Cyrillic, goes back to the ninth century. Its most ancient version was devised by two Greek missionaries – brothers Cyril and Methodius, both outstanding scholars and linguists. The alphabet assumed its modern shape in the 17th century under Peter the Great, while the written Russian of today was introduced by the Soviet government in 1918. The reform didn’t just simplify the writing but symbolised a break with the Tsarist past.
Basic facts about Russia: Political system
The Constitution was adopted by national referendum on December 12, 1993
[pic]The Moscow Kremlin (photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya, RT)
Russia is a federal presidential republic
The executive power is split between the President and the Prime Minister, but the President is the dominant figure. The legislature is represented by the Federal Assembly of Russia. It has two chambers: the State Duma – the lower house, and the Federation Council – the upper house. The judicial power is vested in courts and administered by the Ministry of Justice.
The President is the head of state and is elected by popular vote every six years for a maximum of two consecutive terms. The original constitution had four-year presidential terms, but this was amended to six years by parliament late in 2008. The new rules will not apply to the current administration and will come into effect only after the next election, due in 2012. The President’s working residence is in the Moscow Kremlin. The President determines the basic domestic and foreign policy, is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, can veto legislative bills, resolves issues of citizenship of the Russian Federation, awards state decorations and grants pardons. The Government
Government duties are split between a number of ministries, some of which, in turn, have federal services and federal agencies answerable to them. The head of government, the prime minister, is appointed by the president and confirmed by the State Duma. The government is housed in the so-called White House in Moscow. The government ensures the implementation of domestic and foreign policy, works out the federal budget, oversees the implementation of financial and monetary policy, ensures the rule of law, human rights and freedoms. The Parliament
The bicameral Federal Assembly makes federal law, approves treaties, declares war and has the power of the purse. Both its chambers are located in Moscow. The Federation Council
The Federation Council of Russia is the upper house of the Russian Parliament. Created by the 1993 constitution, it was to act as a voice of Russia’s federated entities. The Council has explicitly stated that no political factions are to exist in the upper house.
Unlike the State Duma, the Council isn’t directly elected. It consists of representatives of Russia’s federal entities – each has two. One is elected by the entity’s legislature; the other is nominated by the entity’s head. The terms of the members aren’t nationally fixed, but depend on the terms of the regional bodies that chose them.
The Council works with the lower chamber to complete and vote on draft laws. But the Federation Council also has special powers of its own, including the declaration of a presidential election, impeachment of the President and decisions on the use of the armed forces outside Russia’s territory. [pic]The White House (photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya, RT)
The State Duma
The State Duma is the lower house of the Russian Parliament. The 450 deputies are elected for terms of five years following constitutional amendments agreed by parliament late in 2008. However, the original term of four years will apply to the current Duma, as the new rules do not come into effect until after the next election. Any Russian citizen over the age of 21 is eligible to run. Half the seats used to be filled through proportional representation and the other half through single seat constituencies. Now the system has changed.
The 2007 parliamentary election used a new format whereby all deputies were elected from party-lists through proportional representation.
The term Duma comes from the Russian “dumat” (“to think”). Compared to some European democracies, the Russian Duma is quite a youngster. Founded in 1906, it didn’t survive the 1917 revolution. But it bounced back in 1993, when Russia’s first President, Boris Yeltsin, introduced a new constitution.
All bills, even those proposed by the Federation Council, must first be considered by the State Duma. Once a bill is passed by a majority in the Duma, a draft law is sent back to the Federation Council. If the Council rejects it, the two chambers may form a commission to work out a compromise. [pic]The Moscow Kremlin (photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya, RT)
Three types of court make up the Russian judiciary:
▪ The courts of general jurisdiction (including military courts), subordinated to the Supreme Court; ▪ He arbitration court system under the High Court of Arbitration; ▪ The Constitutional Court (as well as constitutional courts in a number of federal entities)
The municipal court is the lowest adjudicating body in the general court system. It serves each city or rural district and hears more than 90 per cent of all civil and criminal cases. The next level of courts of general jurisdiction is the regional courts. At the highest level is the Supreme Court. Decisions of the lower trial courts can generally be appealed only to the immediately superior court.
Arbitration courts are in practice specialised courts which resolve property and commercial disputes between economic agents. The highest level of court resolving economic disputes is the High Court of Arbitration.
The Constitutional Court is empowered to rule on whether or not laws or presidential decrees are constitutional. If it finds that a law is unconstitutional, the law becomes unenforceable and governmental agencies are barred from implementing it. The judges of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court and the Higher Arbitration Court are appointed by the parliament’s upper house, the Federation Council.
Basic facts about Russia: Religion
Four religions are official: Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism
Since the fall of communism, religion has thrived with churches and monasteries springing up all over the country
Decades of Soviet rule have left their mark: up to half of Russians declare themselves atheists, although figures vary. Among believers Orthodox Christianity dominates, but smaller Christian denominations also exist. [pic]Photo by Alexey Bondarenko
Doing it differently
Religious holidays, banned after the 1917 revolution, are now back on the Russian calendar. Christmas and Easter are once again marked in grand fashion. Still, Russian Christians do it differently from the West. Soviet Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar, already widely accepted by most of the Western world. But the Russian Orthodox Church still used the old Julian calendar that now falls 13 days behind. Instead of December 25 Russian Christmas is marked on January 7. The same goes for the other religious holidays – when Europe’s finished celebrating, Russia only begins to gear up for the festivities.
Russia’s revered monasteries
Since ancient times, the largest and most important Russian Orthodox monasteries were called “Lavra” (from the Greek “monastery”). Russia has two. The Holy Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra, 70 kilometres from Moscow, was founded in the 14th century by the St. Sergius of Radonezh, one of Russia’s most revered saints. The monastery and the city built around it, Sergiev Posad, are a Russian Vatican of sorts. A major spiritual magnet and a unique historical site, the Laura is world-famous for the rare beauty of its murals and the enchanted singing of its choir.
Alexander Nevsky Lavra was founded by Peter the Great in 1710 in St. Petersburg – seven years after the city itself. Construction works lasted for almost a century. The monastery complex is home to some of St. Petersburg’s oldest buildings. From the outset, the Lavra was known as the most prestigious burial site in Imperial Russia where members of the royal family, priests, prominent poets and composers were laid to rest. [pic]The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour (photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya)
Back from the ruins
One of Russia’s most famous churches is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow. It’s also the country’s largest. Clad in marble, its white bulk crowned with a gleaming golden dome, it is visible all over central Moscow. The original cathedral was constructed in the 19th century to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. It took more than 40 years to build… and only a day to reduce to rubble on Stalin’s orders in 1933. Rebuilt in the 1990s, it’s become a symbol of Russia’s spiritual revival and the newly found power of the Russian Orthodox Church.
Islam in Russia
Russia’s second most popular religion is Islam. It’s thought the country is home to around 14 to 20 million Muslims, making up 10 to 16 per cent of Russia’s population. Almost all Russian Muslims are Sunnis but there are small pockets of Shiites in the Caucasus. Russia’s Muslims mainly live in the Volga Region and the North Caucasus, although Moscow and St. Petersburg also have thriving local communities.
The largest Islamic centres are Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The republic of Tatarstan on the Volga River has as many as 1150 mosques. Its capital Kazan, an ancient Tatar stronghold, boasts the largest mosque in Russia and, reputedly, in Europe – the Qolsharif Mosque. Built in the 16th century, it was destroyed in 1552 during Ivan the Terrible’s Tatar campaigns, when his armies captured Kazan. Now looking decisively modern, it’s the gem of the city’s architectural landscape.
Buddhism made its way to Russia in the late 16th century, when Russian explorers travelled to and settled in Siberia and the Far East. Russia’s key Buddhist centre is Kalmykia. Vast steppe land on the north-western shores of the Caspian Sea, the republic of Kalmykia is the only place in Europe where Buddhism is the major religion. Descendants of the nomadic Mongols, the Kalmyk people revere the Dalai Lama, who visited the republic in 2004. Buddhist teaching is also widespread in Tuva and Buryatia. Located at the midpoint of Asia, the republic of Tuva is famous for its bewitching throat singers. The Buryat Republic, along the eastern shore of Lake Baikal has a strong tradition of Tibetan Buddhist medical practices.
In the 1930s the temples were closed down or burnt and many monks fled or were arrested. But with the beginning of Gorbachev’s era, the Buddhist revival gathered pace and dozens of monasteries were rebuilt. Buddhist centres also opened in many large cities, including Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Basic facts about Russia: Economy
The bulk of Russia’smanufacturing basedates backto the Soviet era
For over half a century, the Russian economy, like that of the rest of the USSR, was centrally planned
The state controlled virtually all investment, production and consumption across the country. Economic policy was shaped by the Communist Party. The transition towards a market economy in the 1990s was painful. Radical liberalisation reforms and massive crash privatisation wiped out the living standards of millions, while crime and corruption flourished. In 1998, Russia was hit with a dramatic economic breakdown as the rouble spectacularly collapsed. [pic]Photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya
But after a decade of crisis, Russia has bounced back. Rising oil prices, increased foreign investment, higher domestic consumption and political stability have bolstered the economic boom. Russia became the fastest growing economy in the G8, ending 2007 with its ninth straight year of growth, averaging 7 per cent annually since 2003.
After years of underachievement, Russia emerged as the world’s leading natural gas exporter and the second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia. Fuelled by oil revenues, it repaid its Soviet-era debt to Paris Club creditors and the International Monetary Fund.
Poverty has declined steadily and the middle class has grown. So has the number of Russia’s super-rich. The country’s freshly minted billionaires now play on the global stage, sweeping up luxury property, places at top universities and sports franchises. But economic development has been uneven throughout the country, and while the Moscow region booms, the rest, especially rural eras, lags far behind. The bulk of Russia’s manufacturing base dates back to the Soviet era. The country inherited most of the USSR’s defence industry, making it one of the world’s major weapons exporters. Efforts have been made to put military industries on civil rails but successful conversion remains a challenge.
And there are other challenges to face. Despite more then a decade of talks, Russia’s still been unable to join the WTO. Moscow applied for membership in 1993 and although formally Russia’s getting closer to accession, progress has been slow. The country is now pushing to diversify its economy, develop small business and invest in human capital. The Putin government launched a multi-billion investment programme in nanotechnology and started an ambitious social scheme to boost the sectors of housing, agriculture, healthcare and education.
Basic facts about Russia: Population
160 ethnic groupsPopulation — 142 million
A blend of cultures and religions
Russia has one of the world’s most diverse societies – as many as 160 ethnic groups live there. The population of about 142 million may look like a lot but its density is low because of the country’s vast size. It’s also very unevenly spread, with most people clustered in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains and in southwest Siberia. [pic]Russian popullation (photo by Irina Vasilevitskaya)
Most Russians are an urban breed – three-quarters of them live in cities. The two major ones are the capital Moscow with more than 10 million people, and St. Petersburg with more than four million. Roughly 80 per cent of the population is ethnic Russian. The rest is a mix of other ethnic groups, with the Tatars and Ukrainians making the largest minorities.
Basic facts about Russia: Administrative division
83 federal entities
Russia is made up of 83 federal entities. Some of them are called republics, others are regions and there are also autonomies
They all have equal representation in the Russian parliament but differ in the degree of autonomy they enjoy. Their administrative heads are often referred to as “governors”, although their official titles vary – several republics have presidents. Moscow and St. Petersburg are federal cities and function as separate regions. [pic]Photo by Alexey Bondarenko
Federal entities have formed over the years. Some have historically been frontier regions, others evolved as homes to specific ethnic minorities. Under President Putin, the number of federal entities was reduced through several mergers and reshuffles. The idea was to bring down trade barriers and boost business development.
Russia’s territory, including all its entities, is grouped into seven federal districts, each administered by an envoy appointed by the President. They act as a link between the federal entities and the federal government. Their key task is to make sure the federal entities comply with the federal laws.
Basic facts about Russia: Official state holidays
8 state holidays
|January 1 |— New Year´s Day | |January 7 |— Christmas | |February 23 |— Defender of the Motherland Day | |March 8 |— International Women’s Day | |May 1 |— Labour Day | |May 9 |— Victory Day | |June 12 |— Russia Day | |November 4 |— National Unity Day |
[pic]Full name: Russian Federation
Population: 142.5 million (UN, 2007)
Area: 17,075,400 km²
Major language: Russian
Major religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddism, Judaism
Life expectancy: 59 years (men), 73 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 rouble = 100 kopecks
National Holidays: New Years Day – January 1, Christmas – January 7, Defender of the Motherland Day – February 23, International Women's Day – March 8, Labour Day – May 1, Victory Day – May 9, Russia Day - June 12, National Unity Day – November 4, Constitution day – December 12 Internet domain: .ru
International dialing code: +7
A vast snow-clad country, the native land of vodka, bears and the KGB: myths about Russia seem to be an integral part of its image. The reality is a heady mix of people, traditions and history.
Spanning 11 time zones and two continents, Russia puzzles and fascinates. Taking up an immense space, a home to different nationalities and cultures, it’s often called a bridge between the East and the West. You can spend a lifetime exploring it without ever unveiling all its mysteries or feel at home over a week-end. It’s a country of snow-covered planes and sizzling seaside, never-ending forests and high peaks, vibrant cities and forlorn villages. Everything’s on a grand scale.
For centuries Russia’s been changing and re-inventing itself. It’s seen great glory and great downfalls. Emerging as one of the world’s top powers, it’s still dealing with its Soviet past. A land of age-old traditions and contrasts.
A challenge as much as a destination, it’s the unknown Russia. It’s up to you to discover it.
uick facts about Russia
|[pic] |[|Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, bordering the Arctic Ocean, between Europe and| |Location: |p|the North Pacific Ocean. Largest country in the world in terms of area; Mount | | |i|Elbrus is Europe's tallest peak in Europe. | | |c| | | |]| | |[pic] | | |Geographic coordinates: | |60 00 N, 100 00 E | |[pic] | | |Area: | |total: |17,075,200 sq km | |[pic] | | |[pic] | |water: |79,400 sq km | |[pic] | |land: |16,995,800 sq km | | | | | | |Land boundaries: | |total: |19,990 km | |[pic] | | |[pic] | |border countries:|Azerbaijan 284 km, Belarus 959 km, China (southeast) 3,605 km,| | | | |China (south) 40 km, Estonia 294 km, Finland 1,313 km, Georgia| | | | |723 km, Kazakhstan 6,846 km, North Korea 19 km, Latvia 217 km,| | | | |Lithuania (Kaliningrad Oblast) 227 km, Mongolia 3,485 km, | | | | |Norway 196 km, Poland (Kaliningrad Oblast) 206 km, Ukraine | | | | |1,576 km | |Coastline: | |37,653 km | |[pic] | | |Climate: | |ranges from humid continental in much of European Russia through steppes in the | | | |south; subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north; winters vary | | | |from cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in | | | |the steppes to cool along Arctic coast. | |[pic] | | |Terrain: | |broad plain with low hills west of Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in | | | |Siberia; uplands and mountains along southern border regions. | |[pic] | | |Elevation extremes: | |lowest point: |Caspian Sea -28 m | |[pic] | |highest point: |Elbrus mountain 5,633 m | |[pic] | | |Natural resources: | |wide natural resource base including major deposits of oil, natural gas, coal, | | | |and many strategic minerals, timber. | |[pic] | | |People in Russia | |Population: |144,978,573 (July 2002 est.) | |[pic] | |Ethnic groups: |Russian 81.5%, Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 3%, Chuvash 1.2%, Bashkir| | | | |0.9%, Belarusian 0.8%, Moldavian 0.7%, other 8.1% | |[pic] | | |[pic] | |Religions: |Russian Orthodox, Muslim, other. | |[pic] | |Languages: |Russian, other. | |Russian Government type: | |Federation | | | | | | |[pic] | | | | |Capital: | |Moscow | |[pic] | | |Administrative divisions: | |49 oblasts (, 21 republics* , 10 autonomous okrugs, 6 krays, 2 federal cities , | | | |and 1 autonomous oblast) | |[pic] | | |National holiday: | |Russia Day, 12 June (1990) | |[pic] | | |Constitution: | |adopted 12 December 1993 | |[pic] | | |Legal system: | |based on civil law system; judicial review of legislative acts | |[pic] | | |Flag description: | |three equal horizontal bands of white (top), blue, and red | |National Emblem: | |double eagle | |[pic] | | |Symbol: | |a bear | |[pic] | | |Economy - overview: | |Russia is struggling to establish a modern market economy, modernize its | | | |industrial base, and maintain strong economic growth. | |[pic] | | |Ports and harbors: | |Aleksandrovsk-Sakhalinsky, Arkhangelsk, Astrakhan, De-Kastri, Indigirskiy, | | | |Kaliningrad, Kandalaksha, Kazan, Khabarovsk, Kholmsk, Krasnoyarsk, Lazarev, | | | |Mago, Mezen', Moscow, Murmansk, Nakhodka, Nevelsk, Novorossiysk, Onega, | | | |Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy, Rostov, Shakhtersk, Saint Petersburg, Sochi, | | | |Taganrog, Tuapse, Uglegorsk, Vanino, Vladivostok, Volgograd, Vostochniy, Vyborg | |[pic] | | |Airports: | |2,743 in total (2001) | |[pic] | | |Places of tourist and cultural interest: | |Moscow, Saint Petersburg and suburbs, Golden Ring cities, main centers on Volga | | | |river, Black Sea and Caucasus mountains resorts... |
Russia's flag (sometimes called the "Imperial flag") was adopted on August 21, 1991. It consists of three equal horizontal bands of white (on the top), blue and red (on the bottom). The height is two-thirds the width. The design of the flag is over 300 years old and was first used by Peter the Great (it was adapted from the flag of the Netherlands). It was the official flag of Russia from May 7, 1883, until November 1917, when the communist Bolshevik revolution took place. When the communist regime fell, the old tri-color flag was reinstated. Since 1994, Russia celebrates national "Day of State Flag" on the 21st of August each year.