Quick Map History Lesson: What Makes Russia So Big?

Covering 171 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface, Russia is the biggest country in the world in term of space. The lowest point of the country lies in the Caspian Sea at -28 meters and highest on Gora Elbrus at 5,633 meters. Taking a quick check at the world map, you will notice Russia immediately because of the size. If you buy a train ticket from the Russian railways, you can travel from Moscow to Vladivostok which is around 6,000 miles apart. Going on this train, you will go through eight time zones in seven days. That sounds amazing, right? But have you ever wondered what makes Russia become such vast country? Let us learn a few facts about it in this article.

It started with a kingdom

Learning a country’s history is the best way to understand why a country is the way it is now. So, that’s what we are about to do with Russia. You have probably known that Russia is a very old country. It started with the establishment of the Rus’ state in 862 that was ruled by the Vikings. This state was situated in the north and inhabited by the Slavs and Finno-Ugrians with Staraya Ladoga and Novgorod as the first big cities. In 882, Prince Oleg of Novgorod took over Kiev from the south and united both lands of the Eastern Slavs under one authority. The kingdom stayed that big for the next seven hundred years.

The expansion happened

Then, in the 15th and 16th centuries, Russia started to expand further after conquering several regions through wars. From 1533 to 1584, Russian Cossacks made the movement to conquer the lands on the other side of Ural Mountains in Siberia and the Far East. Now, this is the interesting fact; these regions make up 77% of the total area of Russia, which is the sole reason why the country is so big. It was not so hard to conquer these lands because of the extreme climate condition that it was hardly inhabited by humans that most of the countries didn’t really desire to occupy. Also, the tribes that populated Siberia didn’t mind joining Russia.

After the East, Russia spread its expansion to the West by taking over Ukraine, Belarus, and the majority of Poland. Then they moved to the South to take the kingdoms of Armenia and Georgia across the Caucasus Mountains. Russia also conquered Central Asia which resulted in the total of 8 million square miles of empire by 1900.

Politics take part in keeping the country big

With such a wide territory, Russia couldn’t avoid the diversity of ethnicity, language, even religion. To keep all of these people together, Russia used power and the threat of force because it was too hard to establish democracy with all those differences. It is typically how things work in most empires. This type of governance didn’t change much after Russia became a part of the Communist Soviet Union in the 20th century. The different nationalities became the republics that built the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). After the fall of the Soviet Union, these fifteen republics turned into independent countries and Russia was one of them. Among all, Russia had the largest area – only 2 million square kilometers smaller than the Soviet Union. You can imagine the comparison of size between Russia and the other fourteen countries only by looking at this fact. Russia could actually become way smaller by letting go of areas that are not historically Russian, but the leadership won’t let that happen because the massive size of the country allows its power to touch Europe, the Middle East, China, and the Pacific. Russia plans to stay that way as one of the most powerful nations in the world.


The amazing diversity

At the beginning of 2019, the population of Russia is 144,438,554 with 81% of ethnic Russians and the rest consists of Tatars (3.9%), Ukrainians (1.4%), Bashkir (1.1%), Chuvash (1%), Chechens (1%) and Armenians (0.9%). In total, there are 160 ethnic groups live within the borders of the Federation of Russia. This is why you can see many faces representing Russia that remind you of different ethnic groups which make the country very unique. The religions officially recognized in Russia are Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. Russian language is the official language used by around 86% of people across the nation.

Not only the people, the condition of Russian nature is also varied from vast deserts to frozen coastline. Like mentioned before, the majority of Russia lies in the Siberia which makes the country known as a very cold place with sprawling pine forests called taiga. The Russian wildlife is also mesmerizing with so many animals native and unique to the country that can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Russia is home to a large number of ecosystems and different species with Siberian tiger as the most famous animal species from the country.


A lot of people want to try to travel across Russia by land to see the amazing nature and diversity. If you plan to do so, like mentioned above, you can take the train from Moscow to Vladivostok which takes seven days from one point to another. If you plan to drive, it will take around eleven days when the weather permits. Considering you will travel across so many time zones and climate conditions, make sure to prepare everything right and take the right time around the year for the journey. It will be a challenging experience for sure, but conquering the approximately 9,500 kilometers distance by land is definitely something worth to try. Now that you know what makes Russia so big, it’s time to travel it.

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