Russia, officially the Russian Federation, is a country that occupies a huge area of land half-way around the world. It is an icelocked continent with few exits to the high seas; ships that seek entry must take devious routes, first through the Baltic and then the White and Arctic Seas. This isolation has characterized the nation for most of its history and is an important part of its identity.
Extending almost halfway around the northern hemisphere, Russia covers vast areas of eastern Europe and northern Asia. The landscape varies from Arctic deserts in the north to forest zones and tundra in the south, with permafrost covering much of the land.
The majority of the population lives in the European portion of the country. The capital city, Moscow (formerly Leningrad), is a major center of political power and cultural life. It is one of the most picturesque cities in the world and has been visited by countless visitors, including many of the world’s most famous artists and intellectuals. Moscow is also an important economic and industrial center.
While most Russians are ethnically Russian, the country is home to more than 120 different groups speaking many languages and following diverse religious traditions. Many of these groups are historically tied to the land, and have migrated from across the continent over the centuries in search of food, furs, secure frontiers, and warm-water ports.
Although Russia has long been a powerful player in the world of politics and the economy, its people have often been disappointed with the country’s performance. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and Russia has struggled to find a role that fits its national identity and geopolitical ambitions.
Today, the Kremlin has consolidated its control over the media, and Putin’s approval ratings are high. His administration has portrayed the conflict with Ukraine as a “limited military operation” that is designed to save Ukrainians from a “genocide.” These claims are largely based on disinformation that has been amplified by state TV and some U.S. outlets, such as the Fox News channel.
As the conflict continues to rage on, Russia’s public opinion appears to be becoming increasingly polarized and radicalized. This is reflected in the splintering of old friendships and the deterioration of family relations. A large segment of society has turned against the regime, voting against constitutional amendments and supporting opposition politicians. It has also flocked to anti-Putin protests in early 2021 and vacationed in the West. The government’s actions have also prompted some Russians to reconsider their relationships with U.S. and Western allies, who may now be perceived as encroaching on Russia’s territory or promoting the war in Ukraine. As a result, some Russians are considering withdrawing from the Council of Europe, where they currently have access to legal redress in human rights cases. This would further distance Russia from international standards of governance and accountability.