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Facts at a Glance
 Full country name: Russian Federation

Area: 17 million sq km (6,563,706 sq mi)

Population: 147 million (growth rate -0.3%)

Capital city: Moscow (pop 8.3 million)

People: 81% Russian, 4% Tatar, 3% Ukrainian and numerous ethnic minorities

Language: Russian

Religion: Russian Orthodox, Islam, Animist

Government: Federation

President: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin


Despite the disintegration of its empire, Russia is still huge - stretching from the borders with Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine and Turkey in the west, passing Kazakstan, Mongolia and China, to reach the Pacific Ocean some 6000km later. The landscape is predominantly flat, punctuated only by the Urals, which rise no higher than 1900m, and the more substantial ranges of the Far East. The three major rivers west of the Urals - the Dnepr, Don and Volga - all rise within 400km of Moscow and flow south into the Black and Caspian Seas. Russia's Far East is Siberia, with all its connotations of tundra, steppes, ranges, exile and mindblowing nothingness.

Due to its size, the land passes through several environmental bands. The northern forests of pine and spruce hide reindeer, wolves and brown bears. The mixed deciduous and coniferous forests are home to deer, lynx and the Siberian tiger (which has been known to wander into the suburbs of Vladivostok). The black earth steppes are the grain basket of Asia. Snow leopards, cheetahs, porcupines, gazelles, wild goats and the chamois grace the deserts of Central Asia, though pollution and fur-hunters threaten the existence of many species. There are over 140 state nature reserves, several of whose breeding programs have ensured the continued livelihood of animal species, including the European bison.

Moscow and St Petersburg share similar summer temperatures, both averaging around 24°C. Moscow is frozen by the end of November, with snow remaining until early April, and has an average January temperature of around -12°C. St Petersburg swings between lacking real darkness in summer to having only about five hours of murky light a day in winter. Its average January temperature is a sweltering -8°C. Spring in both cities brings the great thaw, the reappearance of vehicles on the road and a general sense of mayhem. Vladivostok, on Russia's Pacific coast, experiences slightly milder weather than elsewhere in the Russian Far East. Its -13°C winter temperatures seem positively balmy compared to the northeastern town of Oymyakon, which just happens to be the coldest inhabited place on earth. Its winter temperatures drop to -65°C.

Economic Profile
 Free market reform has not been kind to Russia. Production and investment are in diabolical decline due to uncertainty induced by both the pace of change and the suspicions born of endemic and insidious corruption. Some 40 million people languish below the poverty line.

GDP: US$350 billion

GDP per head: US$2420

Annual growth: 4%

Inflation: 15.1%

Major industries: Oil, coal, iron ore, timber, automotive, agricultural and construction equipment

Major trading partners: EU (esp. Germany), Belarus, Ukraine, USA, China

Member of EU: no

Facts for the Traveler
 Visas: All visitors require a visa

Health risks: Diphtheria, hepatitis A and B, encephalitis, rabies and typhoid

Time: There are 11 time zones; Moscow is GMT/UTC +3

Electricity: 220V (some 127V still found) 50Hz

Weights & measures: Metric

Tourism: 7 million visitors per year

Money & Costs
Relative Costs:

  • Budget: US$4-10
  • Mid-range: US$10-15
  • Top-end: $US15 and upwards

  • Lodging

  • Budget: US$10-45
  • Mid-range: US$45-100
  • Top-end: US$100 and upwards
  • If you're really frugal, avoiding plane trips, taxis, overseas phone calls and decent restaurants, as well as always looking for the very cheapest place to stay, you should be able to get by on US$30 a day. If you always stay in comfortable hotels and eat in restaurants two or three times a day, you're looking at more like US$85 a day. If you prefer to spend your day eating in Moscow's finest restaurants and sleeping between their crispest sheets, plan on around US$350 a day.

    It's best to take your money as many ways as you can. US dollars cash are easiest to change; although carrying cash is dodgy in this increasingly dangerous environment, your chances of changing travellers cheques are slim to non-existent. You should also be able to get a cash advance on your credit card in the big cities, but it will be difficult elsewhere.

    Very few places in Russia expect you to tip. Top-end hotels and restaurants add 5% to 15% to your bill, while porters expect around US$1 a bag. Shops have fixed prices, but in markets you'll be expected to bargain.

    When to Go

    July and August are the warmest months and the main holiday season. They're also the dampest - it might rain one day in three. So if you want to avoid the crowds and the rain, try May-June or September-October. In early autumn the leaves are turning and you can pick mushrooms and berries. Although winter is bitter, theatres open, the vodka comes out, buildings are warm and the snow is beautiful. Spring is slushy, muddy and generally horrible.

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