A Guide to Russia


Russia is a vast and diverse country with world-class cities, forbidding winters, enormous grain farms, and pristine mountain communities. It has a complicated history of monarchy and totalitarianism, rich natural resources, extreme wealth and poverty, and a dynamic economy as it transitions from the Communist past into the global economy.

Russians are a proud people and have no problems admitting that they are not perfect. Many have a strong sense of national identity and take pride in the fact that their nation has produced great literature, art, music, architecture, and science. However, a significant segment of the population is disillusioned with the official storyline from the Kremlin that the west has conspired against Russia for years.

The Russian government has a long history of violating international law and is often accused of bullying and aggressive behavior. The country has repeatedly failed to live up to the commitments made in 1975 under the Helsinki Act, including respecting territorial integrity, refraining from the threat or use of force, and respecting human rights and fundamental freedoms. It has also refused to comply with UN Security Council Resolutions calling on all states to observe non-interference in internal affairs of other countries and requiring respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations.

Many foreigners will require a visa to enter the country, which can be obtained with a simple application online. Visa requirements are complex, and it is wise to apply early since a last-minute application can result in a hefty fee.

Most people will find that Russians speak at least some English, particularly in larger cities. However, it is a good idea to learn some basic Russian words and phrases before traveling to Russia, especially if planning on visiting remote areas or attending a local event. It is also helpful to learn the Cyrillic alphabet.

Type D (continental) climates dominate most of the country, with frigid Arctic air masses sweeping across the north each winter. The south, near the Black Sea, is generally warm in summer and cool to cold in winter.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Russian tsars ruled over an empire that was as diverse as their people. The empire included a wide variety of languages and religions. The tsar’s expansion led to war with Japan and his abdication in 1917 ended the Russian Empire as we know it, turning the country into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

While the Soviet Union eventually collapsed, the remnants of the country now have a mixed political system that includes the Federation of Russia and a handful of independent states with limited autonomy. Some of the states are formally called republics, but they are not true sovereign nations. In addition, a few of the states have autonomous districts that were created for ethnic minorities. These regions have their own constitutions and governments, but do not have the right to secede from the Federation.