The Challenges of Living in Russia

The most geographically massive country in the world, Russia is a land of tundras and taiga forests, steppes and mountains. Its forbidding climate provides a challenge for daily life, but it is also a generous source of food and materials. Vast reserves of oil, natural gas, precious metals and other minerals have made the country a wealthy empire for centuries. But that wealth has often made for a difficult life for most people in the Russian Federation.

Until recently, the vast majority of Russians lived in urban areas, where most people work and play. The cultural capital of the country is Saint Petersburg, with 5.4 million residents. Other large cities include Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Kazan.

Most of the rest of the country is rural. Eight percent of the nation’s area is used for farming, four percent is permanent pastureland, and forty-two percent is covered with forest or woodland. The Russian Taiga has the world’s largest reserves of coniferous wood, but its supply decreases year by year as a result of intensive logging. Other resources in the Russian Federation include one of the largest deposits of apatite in the central Kola Peninsula and rock salt in the lower Volga Valley.

Aside from the Siberian plains, most of the Russian territory is covered with high mountain ranges. Several are on the continental dip (the Ural Mountains and their southwestern extension), along the border with Mongolia (the eastern Sayan Mountains and the western extremity of the Altay Mountains) and in eastern Siberia (a complex system of ranges across northeastern Russia).

The vast expanse of land, far from the moderating influence of oceans, is characterized by Type D climates. These are characterized by hot summers and very cold winters.

Russia is a major energy producer, but its economy has been struggling since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The war in Ukraine is adding to the challenges. The conflict is entering its seventh month and public attention is waning. Many Russians are now treating it as a storm that must be weathered, and they believe that it will eventually end and things will return to normal.

Our survey suggests that most Russians receive and interpret news about the war in Ukraine within the echo chambers of their long-held ideas about the nation, the former Soviet Union and the world. Official versions of events in Ukraine fit well with those perceptions and are easy to believe, while anything that contradicts them is easily dismissed as lies, Russophobia or enemy propaganda. As a result, most Russians are not engaged with the war and do not feel compelled to send their sons and daughters into combat in the neighboring country. That is a major change from the years of the Cold War when most respondents were active conformists in support of the Soviet regime and its policies.