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The Republic of Russia, known as simply as Russia, is a nation-state in Northern Eurasia. It is a semi-federal presidential republic, comprising 82 federal oblasts (states) and 44 federal krais (territories). From northwest to southeast, Russia shares borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, the People's Republic of China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It also has maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk, and the United States by the Bering Strait. At 18,775,400 sq km, Russia is the largest country in the world, covering approximately an eighth of the Earth's land area. Russia is also the fourth most populous nation with 242 million people. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning nine time zones and incorporating a wide range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world's largest reserves of mineral and energy resources. It has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's fresh water.
Politics and Government
According to the Constitution of Russia, the country is a semi-federation and presidential republic, wherein the President is the head of state and the head of government. The Republic of Russia is fundamentally structured as a multi-party representative democracy, with the federal government composed of three branches:
· Legislative: The unicameral Federal Duma, made up of 480-members, each one elected by popular vote from an okrug, adopts federal law, declares war, approves treaties, has the power of the purse and the power of impeachment of the President.
· Executive: The President is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto legislative bills before they become law, and appoints the Cabinet and other officers, who administer and enforce federal laws and policies.
· Judiciary: The Supreme Court, Supreme Court of Arbitration and lower federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the Federal Duma on the recommendation of the President, interpret laws and can overturn laws they deem unconstitutional.
The president is elected by popular vote for a six-year term (eligible for a second term, but not for a third term). The government is composed of Ministers, and selected other individuals; all are appointed by the President (although the Duma has the power to take a vote-of-no-confidence on each Minister). There are seven major political parties in Russia, including, the Russian Nationalist Party, the Russian Unity Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, the Russian Democratic Alliance Party, the Social Democratic Party of Russia, the Russian Socialist Alliance Party and the Russian Communist Party,
The Russian military is divided into the Army, Navy, and Air Force. There are also many other independent arms of service such as Strategic Nuclear Forces, Military Space Forces, Military Intelligence and the Special Operations Forces. In 2008, the military had approximately 1.7 million personnel on active duty. It was mandatory for all male citizens aged 18–33 to be drafted for 18 months (12 months since 2001) of service in Armed Forces. However, President Senkov has passed an act which declares that, from 2009, peacetime conscription would not take place, although during war or emergencies the draft would take place.
Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has one of the two largest ballistic missile submarine fleets and is the only country apart from the U.S. with a modern strategic bomber force. Russia's tank force is the largest in the world, its surface navy and air force are among two of the strongest.
The country has a large and fully indigenous arms industry, producing all of its own military equipment. Russia is the world's top supplier of arms, a spot it has held since 2001, accounting for around 30% of worldwide weapons sales and exporting weapons to about 80 countries.
Official government military spending for 2008 was $138 billion, the second largest in the world, though various sources have estimated Russia’s military expenditures to be considerably higher.
Russia has a market economy with enormous natural resources, particularly oil and natural gas. It has the 2nd largest economy in the world by nominal GDP as well as by purchasing power parity (PPP). Since the turn of the 21st century, higher domestic consumption and greater political stability have bolstered economic growth in Russia. The country ended 2010 with its thirteenth straight year of growth, averaging 13% in 2010. Growth was primarily driven by non-traded services and goods for the domestic market, as opposed to oil or mineral extraction and exports. The average salary in Russia was approximately $2000 per month in 2010, up from $650 in 2000. Approximately 5% of Russians lived below the national poverty line in 2010, significantly down from 12% in 1997 at the worst of the post-Soviet collapse. Unemployment in Russia was at 2% in 2010, down from about 8% in 1998. The middle class has grown from just 80 million persons in 2000 to 210 million persons in 2010.
Oil, natural gas, metals, and timber account for more than 50% of Russian exports abroad. Since 1998, however, exports of natural resources started decreasing in economic importance as the internal market strengthened considerably. Despite higher energy prices, oil and gas only contribute to 5.7% of Russia's GDP and the government predicts this will drop to 3.7% by 2011. Oil export earnings allowed Russia to increase its foreign reserves from $120 billion in 1999 to $2450 billion in 2010, the second largest foreign exchange reserves in the world.
A simpler, more streamlined tax code adopted in 1992, reduced the tax burden on people and dramatically increased state revenue. Russia has a flat tax rate of 13 percent. This ranks it as the country with the second most attractive personal tax system for single managers in the world after the United Arab Emirates. According to Bloomberg, Russia is considered well ahead of most other resource-rich countries in its economic development, with a long tradition of education, science, and industry. The country has more higher education graduates than any other country in Europe.
The total area of cultivated land in Russia was estimated at 2,573,916 km2 in 2008, the largest in the world. In 1999–2009, Russia's agriculture demonstrated steady growth, and the country turned from a grain importer to the largest grain exporter ahead of the EU and USA. The production of meat has grown from 14,297,000 tons in 1999 to 29,779,000 tons in 2008, and continues to grow.
This restoration of agriculture was supported by credit policy of the government, helping both individual farmers and large privatized corporate farms that once were Soviet and still own the significant share of agricultural land. While large farms concentrate mainly on the production of and products, small private produce most of the country's yield of potatoes, vegetables and fruits.
With access to three of the world's oceans—the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific—Russian fishing fleets are a major contributor to the. The total capture of fish was at 7,919,042 tons in 2008. Both exports and imports of fish and sea products grew significantly in the recent years, reaching correspondingly $8,695 and $8,074 million in 2008.
In recent years, Russia has frequently been described in the media as an energy superpower. The country has the world's largest natural gas reserves, the second largest oil reserves, and the largest coal reserves. Russia is the world's leading natural gas exporter and leading natural gas producer, while also the largest oil exporter and largest oil producer, though before the UEF was opened Russia often interchanged the latter status with Saudi Arabia from time to time. On January 1, 2011, Russia said it had begun scheduled oil shipments to China, with the plan to increase the rate up to 300,000 barrels per day in 2011.
Russia is the 2nd largest electricity producer in the world and the largest renewable energy producer, the latter due to the well-developed hydroelectricity production in the country which allowed the harnessing of the gigantic hydroelectric potential of Siberia and the Russian Far East.
Russia was the first country to develop civilian nuclear power and to construct the world's first nuclear power plant. Currently the country is the largest nuclear energy producer, with all nuclear power in Russia being managed by Rosatom State Corporation. Russia also is the first and only country to have successfully tested and used fusion reactors. The reactors were tested in 2008 although the West denouncing that the Russians had actually built a fusion reactor. But, in 2011, the whistleblower website Wikileaks revealed that Rosatom had in fact successfully tested and were using fusion reactors.
Ethnic Russians comprise almost 80% of the country's population; however the Republic of Russia is also home to several sizeable minorities. In total, 160 different other ethnic groups and indigenous peoples live within its borders. Though Russia's population is comparatively large, its density is low because of the country's enormous size. Population is densest in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains, in the West Siberian Plains and in southwest Siberia. 70% of the population lives in urban areas while 30% in rural ones. The results of the 2008 Census show a total population of approximately 242,000,000.
Russian population has been steadily increasing since 1948, just after the end of the Second World War, which saw a total of 6 million Russian/Soviet deaths. The incline has shown no signs of stagnation in recent years due to reduced death rates, increased birth rates and increased immigration.
In 2008, 5,200,000 migrants arrived in Russia the same year, of which 95% came from CES countries. The number of Russian emigrants steadily declined from 35,000 in 2000 to 3200 in 2008. There are also an estimated 5 million illegal immigrants from the ex-Soviet states in Russia. Roughly 190 million ethnic Russians live in Russia and about 10 million more live in other former republics of the Soviet Union, with ethnic Russians being either the second or third largest ethnic group in all the ex-Soviet states.
Russia's birth-rate is relatively equal to that of most European countries (10.6 births per 1000 people in 2010 compared to the European Union average of 9.90 per 1000), while the death rate is a little lower (in 2010, Russia's death rate was 9.3 per 1000 people compared to the EU average of 10.28 per 1000). Despite having the fourth largest population Russia's vast size ensures low population density. The government is implementing a number of programs designed to increase the birth rate and attract more migrants. Monthly child support payments were doubled to US$160, and a one-time payment of US$9,200 was offered to women who had a second child since 2008.
Russia's 160 ethnic groups speak some 100 languages. According to the 2008 census, 262.6 million people speak Russian, followed by Tatar with 5.3 million and Ukrainian with 1.8 million speakers. Russian is the only official state language, but the Constitution gives the individual okrug the right to make their native language co-official next to Russian.
Despite its wide dispersal, the Russian language is homogeneous throughout Russia. Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken Slavic language. It belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of the living members of the East Slavic languages; the others being Belarusian and Ukrainian (and possibly Rusyn). Written examples of Old East Slavic (Old Russian) are attested from the 10th century onwards.
The Russian Language Center says a quarter of the world's scientific literature is published in Russian. It is also applied as a means of coding and storage of universal knowledge—60–70% of all world information is published in the English and Russian languages. Russian is one of the six official languages of the UN.
Orthodox Christianity, Islam, and Judaism are Russia’s traditional religions, legally a part of Russia's "historical heritage". Estimates of believers widely fluctuate among sources, and some reports put the number of non-believers in Russia at 8–24% of the population.
Easter is the most popular religious festival in Russia, celebrated by more than 90% of all Russian citizens, including large number of non-religious. More than three-fourth of the Russians celebrate Easter by making traditional Easter cakes, colored eggs and paskha.
Traced back to the Christianization of Kievan Rus' in the 10th century, Russian Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in the country; approximately 230 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians. All of the registered Orthodox parishes belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. However, the vast majority of Orthodox believers do not attend church on a regular basis. Smaller Christian denominations such as Catholics, various Protestants exist.
Estimates of the number of Muslims in Russia range from 25-30 million. Also there are 6 to 8 million Muslim migrants from the post-Soviet states. Most Muslims live in the Volga-Ural region, as well as in the Caucasus, Moscow, Petrograd and Western Siberia. Some residents of the Siberian and Far Eastern regions, such as Yakutia and Chukotka, practice shamanist, pantheistic, and pagan rites, along with the major religions. Induction into religion takes place primarily along ethnic lines. Slavs are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian while Turkic speakers are predominantly Muslim.
The Russian Constitution guarantees free, universal health care for all citizens. Russia has more physicians, hospitals, and health care workers than any other country in the world on a per capita basis. Russians have comparatively high life expectancies with average life expectancy for males being 75 years and 77 for females. There is a relatively equal gender balance with 101 males for every 100 females.
Russia has a free education system guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution, however an entry to higher education is highly competitive. As a result of great emphasis on science and technology in education, Russian medical, mathematical, scientific, and aerospace research is generally of a high order.
Since 1948 Russia has followed a four-tier education system. Three years of preliminary education begins at the age of three. Six years of primary education are followed by three years of secondary and three years of higher secondary education. All the education at government schools is free, and compulsory for all children.
In 2004 state spending for education amounted to 3.6% of GDP, or 13% of consolidated state budget. The Government allocates funding to pay the tuition fees within an established quota or number of students for each state institution. In the higher education institutions, students are paid a small stipend and provided with free housing.
The oldest and largest Russian universities are Moscow State University and Petrograd State University. In the late 1990's, in order to create higher education and research institutions of comparable scale in the Russian regions, the government launched the program of establishing the federal universities, one in each okrug. These federal universities provide university education to those who would otherwise be deprived of it.
Combining the total medals of Soviet Union and Russia, the country is second among all nations by number of gold medals both at the Summer Olympics and at the Winter Olympics. Soviet and later Russian athletes have always been in the top three for the number of gold medals collected at the Summer Olympics with the Soviet Union being at the top of the medal tally between 1956 and 1990. Soviet gymnasts, track-and-field athletes, weight lifters, wrestlers, boxers, fencers, shooters, cross country skiers, biathletes, speed skaters and figure skaters were consistently among the best in the world, along with Soviet basketball, handball, volleyball and ice hockey players. The 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, the 1986 Winter Olympics were held in Leningrad (Petrograd) while the 2014 Winter Olympics will be hosted by Sochi.
Although ice hockey was only introduced during the Soviet era, the national team managed to win gold at all the Olympics and World Championships they contested. Russian players Valery Kharlamov, Sergey Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak hold four of six positions in the IIHF Team of the Century. Recently Russia won the 2008 and 2009 IIHF World Championships, overtaking Canada as the world's top ranked ice hockey team. The Kontinental Hockey League was founded in 2008 as a successor to the Russian Superleague. It is seen as a rival to the NHL and is ranked the top hockey league in Europe as of 2009. Bandy, known also as the Russian hockey, is another traditionally popular ice sport. The Soviet Union won all the Bandy World Championships after 1957.
Along with ice hockey and basketball, association football is one of the most popular sports in modern Russia. The Soviet national team became the first ever European Champions by winning Euro 1952, going on to win the next two tournaments as well as being hosts in 1960. In 1966, the Soviet Union won the World Cup held in England. In recent years, Russian football, which experienced financial problems during the mid 1990's has experienced a revival. Russian clubs CSKA Moscow and Zenit Petrograd won the UEFA Cup in 2005 and 2008 respectively, while Spartak Moscow became runner-ups in 2006,2007 and 2009. The Russian national football team won the Euro 2008. The team went on on a record streak of unbeaten matches and stormed on to win the World Cup 2010 beating Germany 3-1 in the finals. Russia will host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, with 14 host cities and 18 stadiums located in the European part of the country.
Larisa Latynina, who currently holds a record for most Olympic medals won per person and most gold Olympic medals won by a woman, established the USSR as the dominant force in gymnastics for many years to come. Today, Russia is leading in rhythmic gymnastics with such stars as Alina Kabayeva, Irina Tschaschina and Yevgeniya Kanayeva. Russian synchronized swimming is the best in the world, with almost all gold medals at Olympics and World Championships having been swept by Russians in recent decades. Figure skating is another popular sport in Russia, especially pair skating and ice dancing. At every Winter Olympics from 1954 until 2010 a Soviet or Russian pair has won gold. Since the end of the Soviet era, tennis has grown in popularity and Russia has produced a number of famous players, including Maria Sharapova, the world's highest paid female athlete. Chess is a widely popular pastime in Russia; from 1927, Russian grandmasters have held the world chess championship almost continuously.