November 25, 2012 9:49 pm

Russia is the biggest country on Earth. Russia is so big that the whole United States could fit inside it nearly twice. In fact, if you started from one end of Russia, you would travel almost halfway around the world before you reached the other end!
Russia extends across two continents. About one-third of it lies in Europe. The rest stretches all the way across northern Asia. The Ural Mountains, which run north to south, divide European Russia from Asian Russia. In all, about 141 million people live in Russia.
Russia’s weather is a lot like that of Canada—the world’s second biggest country in area. Russia lies about as far north as Canada. The weather tends to be cold, with long winters and short summers.
Facts About Russia
Official name
Russian Federation
Official language
141,000,000 people
Rank among countries in population
Major cities
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod
6,590,000 square miles
17,100,000 square kilometers
Rank among countries in area
Highest point
18,510 feet/5,642 meters
A great plain stretches over European Russia. Slow-moving rivers crisscross this plain, including the Volga, the Daugava, and the Don. Most Russians live in this part of the country.
In the north, many swamps and lakes dot the plain. In the south, the rich soils make good farmland.
More than ten cities in European Russia have over 1 million people, but the largest by far is Moscow, Russia’s capital. Moscow grew up on the banks of the Moscow River. Today, it is a city of more than 10 million people.
At the heart of Moscow is a famous old fortress called the Kremlin. Today, the Kremlin is the seat of the Russian government. At the foot of the Kremlin’s eastern walls is Red Square, a vast public square that has been the scene of many famous events in Russian history. On the south end of Red Square is Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The cathedral’s multicolored, onion-shaped domes are world-famous.
The next largest city is Saint Petersburg, Russia’s biggest seaport. Saint Petersburg is on the Gulf of Finland to the west. Its lavish palaces and grand cathedrals make it one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. For more than two centuries, from 1712 to 1918, Saint Petersburg was Russia’s capital.
The Asian part of Russia is called Siberia. It lies to the east of the Ural Mountains. Siberia is a treasure-trove of natural resources. It has huge deposits of oil, natural gas, and minerals, and vast stands of timber.
The northernmost part of Siberia has treeless plains, called tundra. Most of the tundra is covered by permafrost, a deeply frozen soil. Few plants can grow in this part of Siberia.
Ice on the surface melts in summer, but the warmth can’t sink through the frozen soil. So the water pools in great marshes that swarm with flies and mosquitoes. Polar bears, walruses, and reindeer live on this land.
South of the tundra is a great belt of forested land called taiga. Russia contains about one-quarter of the world’s forested area. Sable, lynx, wolves, and brown bears live here. In Siberia’s eastern forests live antelope, leopards, and the world’s biggest cats—Siberian tigers.
Rolling grasslands, called steppes, cover much of southern Siberia. Siberia’s richest farmland is found here. Today, the steppes have been plowed and planted for farming.
During the 1400s, the princes of Moscow began wars to conquer lands around Russia. They called themselves tsars, a title Russians once used for their own conquerors. One Russian tsar, Peter the Great, decided to make his country like the ones found elsewhere in Europe.
When Peter came to power in the late 1600s, Russia was a backward land. Farming was primitive. The military was poorly organized. Peter ordered his nobles to dress like other Europeans. He built a strong army, roads, and canals. Russian tsars became powerful European kings.
The arts flourished in Russia during the 1800s. Writers such as Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Anton Chekhov penned great works of literature. Musicians such as Peter Tchaikovsky and Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov composed influential music. Russians performed brilliant ballets and operas.
By the late 1800s, many Russians began to oppose the great power of the tsars. Most Russians were poor farmers called serfs. Serfs were not allowed to leave the land where they worked. Many other Russians were terribly poor factory workers. Among these workers, an idea called Communism took hold.
Communists said that all workers should own the land and factories and control the government. In 1917, a Communist movement, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized power.
In 1922, after a civil war, the Communists created a new state. They called it the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, or Soviet Union, for short). Russia was the biggest part of this new state.
After Lenin died, Joseph Stalin took his place. Stalin turned Russia into a Communist country by force. He killed many people and sent millions more to prison camps in Siberia. His secret police, the KGB, terrorized the Russian people.
During World War II, the Soviet Union helped defeat Germany. After the war ended in 1945, the Soviet Union took control of the countries in Eastern Europe.
By 1989, Russians had grown tired of Communism. The system could not produce enough ordinary goods, such as clothing or cars. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev tried to loosen the system. But his changes allowed the people to sweep the Communists out altogether.
In December 1991, the Soviet Union officially ended. The different parts of the Soviet Union became separate countries again, including Russia.
Since then, Russia has inched toward democracy. The government no longer tries to control every aspect of Russian life, as it once did. An elected president now leads the country. Factories have been sold to private companies. Land has been given to private citizens and businesses.
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