A Guide to Russia

A huge, landlocked country with forbidding winters that have several times saved it from foreign invaders, Russia is a rich store of crops and minerals. It also has immense oil and gas reserves. Its inhabitants are a mixture of ethnic groups that speak many languages and practice different religions. Ruling this diverse, vast empire has proved challenging for the Russians and their successors.

Most visitors to Russia need a visa, which is granted for a limited period of time. The process varies depending on the country of origin and where in Russia one intends to travel. Obtaining the required documents requires some planning ahead of time.

Visitors should always carry their passports and visas with them at all times, as authorities will not accept copies. It’s also illegal to take photos of sensitive areas without permission, as well as to use commercial film, television or camera equipment in public places. Penalties are severe for these offenses.

In addition to the many world-class museums, art galleries and monuments, Russia is home to a number of natural wonders. These include the Volga River, the world’s longest and deepest river; the Lake Baikal, which is considered to be the oldest and largest lake in the world; and the Siberian forests and tundras that are home to polar bears and other wild animals.

While Moscow and Saint Petersburg are among the most visited cities in Russia, other large and medium-sized cities such as Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Samara, Vladivostok and Tver are worth visiting, too. The country’s southern regions also offer a variety of activities, from beaches to the snow-capped mountains of the Caucasus.

Russia’s climate varies from temperate in the south to frigid in the north. It is dominated by type D (continental) climates, which are characterized by hot summers and cold winters. The far north borders the Arctic Ocean, and frigid air masses from the Arctic swoop down over much of Russia each winter. In the south, the mountains and birch forests have a type A climate.

Before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian population was heavily concentrated in urban areas, with most people living in Moscow and St. Petersburg, the former capitals of the Russian Empire. During this period, wealth was shifted from political leaders to the business elite, while older people watched their life savings disappear. Western goods began to appear more easily and affordable.

Today, Russia is a centralized authoritarian state led by Vladimir Putin. His regime attempts to legitimize itself through managed elections, populist appeals and a foreign policy aimed at enhancing the country’s geopolitical influence. Russia’s massive size and natural resources make it an important player in global politics. Despite a weakened economy, the country remains a powerful military power and has significant nuclear stockpiles. The government has shown a willingness to intervene militarily in Ukraine, Belarus and Syria in recent years. It also has a strained relationship with the West. In 2014, the Kremlin seized the Ukrainian region of Crimea, which led to a major showdown between the West and Russia.