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Russia at a glance

Published on 03/12/2011

Key facts about Russia, which votes in parliamentary polls on Sunday:

GEOGRAPHY: The Russian Federation is the largest country in the world, sprawling across nine time zones and covering more than 10 percent of the globe’s total land area.

At 17 million square kilometres (6.8 million square miles), it is more than one-and-a-half times the size of the United States and almost 70 times the area of Britain.

Russia has land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia and Latvia in the northwest, Belarus and Ukraine to the west, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to the southwest, and China, Mongolia and North Korea to the southeast.

POPULATION: 142.9 million.

CAPITAL: Moscow.

LANGUAGE: Russian is the official language. A large number of other languages are spoken by dozens of different ethnic groups.

RELIGION: Orthodox Christianity, with Islam, Buddhism and Judaism also practised regionally.

HISTORY: By the 19th century Russian territory extended across vast areas of eastern and central Europe and Asia. However growing discontent with a backward, semi-feudal system culminated in the Bolshevik revolution of 1917.

The communist Soviet Union, created in 1922, eventually numbered 15 constituent republics, of which Russia was by far the biggest.

The dictator Josef Stalin created a brutally repressive regime, but the country played a key role, at huge cost, in defeating Nazi Germany during World War II.

After the war, the Soviets followed the United States in obtaining nuclear weapons, leading to almost five decades of mutual antagonism known as the Cold War.

The Soviet Union fell apart in December 1991, when several of the constituent republics, encouraged by Russia’s newly-elected president Boris Yeltsin, opted for independence.

The introduction of market reforms since 1991, notably the lifting of price controls and the unregulated privatisation of large sectors of the economy, had a devastating effect, sending many Russians into poverty.

Russia has also fought two brutal wars in the small Caucasian republic of Chechnya, which had sought independence.

POLITICAL INSTITUTIONS: The federation comprises several republics and other regions which exercise varying degrees of autonomy.

Under the 1993 constitution, executive power is invested in the president who is elected for a maximum of two four-year period and appoints the government, including the prime minister.

Vladimir Putin was elected in March 2000. After two terms in office he handed power to his protege Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 but is expected to reclaim his old Kremlin job in the March presidential election. Under his term in office, Medvedev extended a presidential term to six years from four.

Parliament is composed of the 450-seat State Duma lower house of parliament and the Federal Council upper chamber.

In the December 2007 election, the ruling United Russia party won more than two thirds of seats in the Duma.

ECONOMY: Russia has huge mineral and petrochemical resources, and is the world’s biggest energy. Putin has strengthened the role of the state in the economy, especially in the spheres of oil and gas, the aeronautical industry, space and new technologies.

The Russian economy has made a comeback since the global economic crisis, growing by four percent in 2010 after shrinking 7.8 percent the year before.

DEFENCE: The army is just over one million strong. Russia is one of the five recognised nuclear-armed powers which can wield a veto as permanent members of the UN Security Council.