Everybody knows that the Russian land is vast, cold and mostly flat, with mighty rivers but little access to the sea. Like most common knowledge, this particular example is in an important sense correct, but it also requires some modification. Even now, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation remains a huge state, still stretching half-way around the globe — anybody who does not appreciate this basic fact should spend a week or so on the Trans-Siberian Railway. In winter, the coldest spot in the world is to be found in Siberia, while warmth is to be found near the Black Sea only. In summer, heat is more widespread, but much of the land remains too cold for agriculture of any kind to be carried on, while some is too dry for it to be attempted without irrigation. The exploitation of Russia’s natural resources has been hampered by difficult problems of distance and climate.
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