What to Expect From a Visit to Russia


Russia stretches half the way around the Northern Hemisphere, with a maximum east-west length of 5,600 miles (9,000 km) and a north-south width of 1,500 to 2,500 miles (2,400 to 4,000 km). A huge country, its landforms vary widely across the broad latitudinal belts. Arctic deserts, tundra, and taiga give way to forest zones that make up more than half the territory.

The most recognizable landscape is the immense Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. It is surrounded by soaring mountains that are popular destinations for both casual hikers and professional mountain climbers. Another dramatic Russian landscape is the Siberian Plain, a vast expanse of low-lying flatlands that are broken up only by morainic upland ridges and plateaus.

Modernizing Russia was a major goal of Tsar Peter the Great, who ruled from 1682 to 1725. He built Moscow’s grand citadel of the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral, among many other notable landmarks, as he consolidated his control over Western Russia. He also shifted the capital from medieval and insular Moscow to the new, cosmopolitan city of St Petersburg, which became the country’s most important cultural center. In the ensuing centuries, Russia’s political life was characterized by frequent political crises and bloody military conflicts with both European powers and Asian empires.

After the executive-legislative crisis of 1993, Yeltsin strengthened constitutional obstacles to legislative removal of the president. The 1993 constitution stipulates that the president can be removed only if he commits “grave crimes or treason” and is convicted by the upper chamber of parliament, the Federation Council, based on a ruling of the Supreme Court.

A number of other judicial reforms, including the passage in 2001 of a Criminal Procedure Code that makes the country’s trials more compatible with Western standards, have also helped to improve human rights. But these reforms are still far from sufficient.

Unless you are visiting on an organized tour, you will need to obtain a visa to enter Russia. Most embassy or consulate websites list the required documents, but these requirements vary from one institution to the next, and are subject to change. Some require application in person, others may accept applications by mail or online. The embassy or consulate also sets the visa fee, which can be quite high.

You can apply for a private or homestay visa if you have friends or relatives in Russia, but these invitations are often difficult to arrange and take at least a month to process. The individual who invites you becomes responsible for you during your stay and can be penalized if anything goes wrong. It is therefore a good idea to have your own driver on hand to assist with logistical matters and make sure that your trip is as smooth as possible. They can also provide tips for what to see and do in each region of the country.