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Kunstkammer Museum, Saint Petersburg

Asia

 
Russia
Russia is a country that stretches over a vast expanse of Europe and Asia. With an area of 17,075,200 square kilometres, it is the largest country in the world by land mass, covering almost twice the territory of the next-largest country, Canada. It ranks as the world's eighth largest population. Russia shares land borders with the following countries (counter-clockwise from NW to SE): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It is also close to the United States, Canada, Armenia, Iran, Turkey and Japan across stretches of water: the Diomede Islands (one controlled by Russia, the other by the United States) are just 3 kilometres (1.9 mi) apart, and Kunashir Island (controlled by Russia but claimed by Japan) is about 20 kilometres (12 mi) from Hokkaido.
Background Information
The history of Russia begins with that of the East Slavs, the ethnic group that eventually split into the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. The first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus', adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next seven centuries. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state, leaving a number of states competing for claims to be the heirs to its civilization and dominant position. After the 13th century, Muscovy gradually came to dominate the former cultural center. In the 18th century, the principality of Muscovy had become the huge Russian Empire, stretching from Poland eastward to the Pacific Ocean. Expansion in the western direction sharpened Russia's awareness of its backwardness and shattered the isolation in which the initial stages of expansion had occurred. Successive regimes of the 19th century responded to such pressures with a combination of halfhearted reform and repression. Russian serfdom was abolished in 1861, but its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to increase revolutionary pressures. Between the abolition of serfdom and beginning of World War I in 1914, the Stolypin reforms, the constitution of 1906 and State Duma introduced notable changes in economy and politics of Russia, but the tsars were still not willing to cede autocratic rule.
Climate
Russia has a largely continental climate because of its sheer size and compact configuration. Most of its land is more than 400 kilometers from the sea, and the center is 3,840 kilometers from the sea. In addition, Russia's mountain ranges, predominantly to the south and the east, block moderating temperatures from the Indian and Pacific Oceans, but European Russia and northern Siberia lack such topographic protection from the Arctic and North Atlantic Oceans.

Because only small parts of Russia are south of 50 degrees north latitude and more than half of the country is north of 60 degrees north latitude, extensive regions experience six months of snow cover over subsoil that is permanently frozen to depths as far as several hundred meters. The average yearly temperature of nearly all of European Russia is below freezing, and the average for most of Siberia is freezing or below. Most of Russia has only two seasons, summer and winter, with very short intervals of moderation between them. Transportation routes, including entire railroad lines, are redirected in winter to traverse rock-solid waterways and lakes. Some areas constitute important exceptions to this description, however: the moderate maritime climate of Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic Sea is similar to that of the American Northwest; the Russian Far East, under the influence of the Pacific Ocean, has a monsoonal climate that reverses the direction of wind in summer and winter, sharply differentiating temperatures; and a narrow, subtropical band of territory provides Russia's most popular summer resort area on the Black Sea.

In winter, an intense high-pressure system causes winds to blow from the south and the southwest in all but the Pacific region of the Russian landmass; in summer, a low-pressure system brings winds from the north and the northwest to most of the landmass. Russia is the coldest country of the world (average annual temperature is -5.5C). That meteorological combination reduces the wintertime temperature difference between north and south. Thus, average January temperatures are -8C in St. Petersburg, -27C in the West Siberian Plain, and -43C at Yakutsk (in east-central Siberia, at approximately the same latitude as St. Petersburg), while the winter average on the Mongolian border, whose latitude is some 10 degrees farther south, is barely warmer. Summer temperatures are more affected by latitude, however; the Arctic islands average 4C, and the southernmost regions average 20C. Russia's potential for temperature extremes is typified by the national record low of -70C, recorded at Verkhoyansk in north-central Siberia and the record high of 38C, recorded at several southern stations.

The long, cold winter has a profound impact on almost every aspect of life in Russia. It affects where and how long people live and work, what kinds of crops are grown, and where they are grown (no part of the country has a year-round growing season). The length and severity of the winter, together with the sharp fluctuations in the mean summer and winter temperatures, impose special requirements on many branches of the economy. In regions of permafrost, buildings must be constructed on pilings, machinery must be made of specially tempered steel, and transportation systems must be engineered to perform reliably in extremely low and extremely high temperatures. In addition, during extended periods of darkness and cold, there are increased demands for energy, health care, and textiles.

Because Russia has little exposure to ocean influences, most of the country receives low to moderate amounts of precipitation. Highest precipitation falls in the northwest, with amounts decreasing from northwest to southeast across European Russia. The wettest areas are the small, lush subtropical region adjacent to the Caucasus and along the Pacific coast. Along the Baltic coast, average annual precipitation is 600 millimeters, and in Moscow it is 525 millimeters. An average of only twenty millimeters falls along the Russian-Kazakh border, and as little as fifteen millimeters may fall along Siberia's Arctic coastline. Average annual days of snow cover, a critical factor for agriculture, depends on both latitude and altitude. Cover varies from forty to 200 days in European Russia, and from 120 to 250 days in Siberia.
The path to New Jerusalem, Moscow
Kremlin and the Moskwa River, Moscow
Map of Russia