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Russian Federation
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Country profile

Name: Russian Federation
Conventional short form: Russia
Nationality: russian
Time Zone: Stretching from Europe to Asia, Russia spans 11 time zones, (UTC +2 ....+12)
Government type: federation
Head of State: President
Language: major language - Russian, many minority languages
Religion: major religions - Christianity, Islam
Official Currency: Russian ruble
Administrative divisions: 48 oblasts (oblastey, singular - oblast), 21 republics (respublik, singular - respublika), 9 autonomous okrugs (avtonomnykh okrugov, singular - avtonomnyy okrug), 7 krays (krayev, singular - kray), 2 federal cities (singular - gorod), and 1 autonomous oblast (avtonomnaya oblast')

It is the largest country in the world by land mass, covering almost twice the territory of the next-largest country, Canada. It ranks as the world's seventh largest population. Russia shares land borders with the following countries (counter-clockwise from NW to SE): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It is also close to the United States, Canada, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey, Sweden, and Japan across stretches of water.

Tradition says the Viking Rurik came to Russia in 862 and founded the first Russian dynasty in Novgorod. The various tribes were united by the spread of Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries; Vladimir "the Saint" was converted in 988. During the 11th century, the grand dukes of Kiev held such centralizing power as existed. In 1240, Kiev was destroyed by the Mongols, and the Russian territory was split into numerous smaller dukedoms. Early dukes of Moscow extended their dominion over other Russian cities through their office of tribute collector for the Mongols and because of Moscow's role as an administrative and trade center.
In the late 15th century, Duke Ivan III acquired Novgorod and Tver and threw off the Mongol yoke. Ivan IV - 7the Terrible (1533-1584), first Muscovite czar - is considered to have founded the Russian state. He crushed the power of rival princes and boyars (great landowners), but Russia remained largely medieval until the reign of Peter the Great (1689-1725), grandson of the first Romanov czar, Michael (1613-1645). Peter made extensive reforms aimed at westernization and, through his defeat of Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, he extended Russia's boundaries to the west. Catherine the Great (1762-1796) continued Peter's westernization program and also expanded Russian territory, acquiring the Crimea, Ukraine, and part of Poland. During the reign of Alexander I (1801-1825), Napoleon's attempt to subdue Russia was defeated (1812-1813), and new territory was gained, including Finland (1809) and Bessarabia (1812). Alexander originated the Holy Alliance, which for a time crushed Europe's rising liberal movement.
Alexander II (1855-1881) pushed Russia's borders to the Pacific and into central Asia. Serfdom was abolished in 1861, but heavy restrictions were imposed on the emancipated class. Revolutionary strikes, following Russia's defeat in the war with Japan, forced Nicholas II (1894-1917) to grant a representative national body (Duma), elected by narrowly limited suffrage. It met for the first time in 1906 but had little influence on Nicholas.
World War I demonstrated czarist corruption and inefficiency, and only patriotism held the poorly equipped army together for a time. Disorders broke out in Petrograd (renamed Leningrad and now St. Petersburg) in March 1917, and defection of the Petrograd garrison launched the revolution. Nicholas II was forced to abdicate on March 15, 1917, and he and his family were killed by revolutionaries on July 16, 1918. A provisional government under the successive prime ministerships of Prince Lvov and a moderate, Alexander Kerensky, lost ground to the radical, or Bolshevik, wing of the Socialist Democratic Labor Party. On Nov. 7, 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution, engineered by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the Kerensky government, and authority was vested in a Council of People's Commissars, with Lenin as prime minister.
The humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918) concluded the war with Germany, but civil war and foreign intervention delayed Communist control of all Russia until 1920. A brief war with Poland in 1920 resulted in Russian defeat.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established as a federation on Dec. 30, 1922. The death of Lenin on Jan. 21, 1924, precipitated an intraparty struggle between Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the party, and Trotsky, who favored swifter socialization at home and fomentation of revolution abroad. Trotsky was dismissed as commissar of war in 1925 and banished from the Soviet Union in 1929. He was murdered in Mexico City on Aug. 21, 1940, by a political agent. Stalin further consolidated his power by a series of purges in the late 1930s, liquidating prominent party leaders and military officers. Stalin assumed the prime ministership on May 6, 1941.
The term Stalinism has become defined as an inhumane, draconian socialism. Stalin sent millions of Soviets who did not conform to the Stalinist ideal to forced-labor camps, and he persecuted his country's vast number of ethnic groups-reserving particular vitriol for Jews and Ukrainians. Soviet historian Roy Medvedev estimated that about 20 million died from starvation, executions, forced collectivization, and life in the labor camps under Stalin's rule.
Soviet foreign policy, at first friendly toward Germany and antagonistic toward Britain and France and then, after Hitler's rise to power in 1933, becoming anti-Fascist and pro-League of Nations, took an abrupt turn on Aug. 24, 1939, with the signing of a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany. The next month, Moscow joined in the German attack on Poland, seizing territory later incorporated into the Ukrainian and Belorussian SSRs. The Russo-Finnish War (1939-1940) added territory to the Karelian SSR set up on March 31, 1940; the annexation of Bessarabia and Bukovina from Romania became part of the new Moldavian SSR on Aug. 2, 1940; and the annexation of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in June 1940 created the 14th, 15th, and 16th Soviet republics. The Soviet-German collaboration ended abruptly with a lightning attack by Hitler on June 22, 1941, which seized 500,000 sq mi of Russian territory before Soviet defenses, aided by U.S. and British arms, could halt it. The Soviet resurgence at Stalingrad from Nov. 1942 to Feb. 1943 marked the turning point in a long battle, ending in the final offensive of Jan. 1945. Then, after denouncing a 1941 nonaggression pact with Japan in April 1945, when Allied forces were nearing victory in the Pacific, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on Aug. 8, 1945, and quickly occupied Manchuria, Karafuto, and the Kuril Islands.
After the war, the Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain, and France divided Berlin and Germany into four zones of occupation, which led to immediate antagonism between the Soviet and Western powers, culminating in the Berlin blockade in 1948. The USSR's tightening control over a cordon of Communist states, running from Poland in the north to Albania in the south, was dubbed the "iron curtain" by Churchill and would later lead to the Warsaw Pact. It marked the beginning of the cold war, the simmering hostility that pitted the world's two superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR - and their competing political ideologies - against each other for the next 45 years. Stalin died on March 6, 1953.
The new power emerging in the Kremlin was Nikita S. Khrushchev (1958-1964), first secretary of the party. Khrushchev formalized the eastern European system into a Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and a Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization as a counterweight to NATO. The Soviet Union exploded a hydrogen bomb in 1953, developed an intercontinental ballistic missile by 1957, sent the first satellite into space (Sputnik I) in 1957, and put Yuri Gagarin in the first orbital flight around Earth in 1961. Khrushchev's downfall stemmed from his decision to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and then, when challenged by the U.S., backing down and removing the weapons. He was also blamed for the ideological break with China after 1963. Khrushchev was forced into retirement on Oct. 15, 1964, and was replaced by Leonid I. Brezhnev as first secretary of the party and Aleksei N. Kosygin as premier.
U.S. president Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty in Vienna on June 18, 1979, setting ceilings on each nation's arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because of the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet troops on Dec. 27, 1979. On Nov. 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died. Yuri V. Andropov, who had formerly headed the KGB, became his successor but died less than two years later, in Feb. 1984. Konstantin U. Chernenko, a 72-year-old party stalwart who had been close to Brezhnev, succeeded him. After 13 months in office, Chernenko died on March 10, 1985. Chosen to succeed him as Soviet leader was Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who led the Soviet Union in its long-awaited shift to a new generation of leadership. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Gorbachev did not also assume the title of president but wielded power from the post of party general secretary.
Gorbachev introduced sweeping political and economic reforms, bringing glasnost and perestroika, "openness" and "restructuring", to the Soviet system. He established much warmer relations with the West, ended the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and announced that the Warsaw Pact countries were free to pursue their own political agendas. Gorbachev's revolutionary steps ushered in the end of the cold war, and in 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to ending the 45-year conflict between East and West.
The Soviet Union took much criticism in early 1986 over the April 24 meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant and its reluctance to give out any information on the accident.
Dissolution of the USSR Gorbachev's promised reforms began to falter, and he soon had a formidable political opponent agitating for even more radical restructuring. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian SSR, began challenging the authority of the federal government and resigned from the Communist Party along with other dissenters in 1990. On Aug. 29, 1991, an attempted coup d'Đ¹tat against Gorbachev was orchestrated by a group of hard-liners. Yeltsin's defiant actions during the coup - he barricaded himself in the Russian parliament and called for national strikes-resulted in Gorbachev's reinstatement. But from then on, power had effectively shifted from Gorbachev to Yeltsin and away from centralized power to greater power for the individual Soviet republics. In his last months as the head of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and proposed the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which, when implemented, gave most of the Soviet Socialist Republics their independence, binding them together in a loose, primarily economic federation. Russia and ten other former Soviet republics joined the CIS on Dec. 21, 1991. Gorbachev resigned on Dec. 25, and Yeltsin, who had been the driving force behind the Soviet dissolution, became president of the newly established Russian Republic.
At the start of 1992, Russia embarked on a series of dramatic economic reforms, including the freeing of prices on most goods, which led to an immediate downturn. A national referendum on confidence in Yeltsin and his economic program took place in April 1993. To the surprise of many, the president and his shock-therapy program won by a resounding margin. In September, Yeltsin dissolved the legislative bodies left over from the Soviet era.
The president of the southern republic of Chechnya accelerated his region's drive for independence in 1994. In December, Russian troops closed the borders and sought to squelch the independence drive. The Russian military forces met firm and costly resistance. In May 1997, the two-year war formally ended with the signing of a peace treaty that adroitly avoided the issue of Chechen independence.
In 1999, the former Russian satellites of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, raising Russia's hackles. The desire of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all of which were once part of the Soviet Union, to join the organization in the future further antagonized Russia.
In a decision that took Russia and the world by surprise, Boris Yeltsin resigned on Dec. 31, 1999, and Vladimir Putin became the acting president.
On March 26, 2000, Putin won the presidential election with about 53% of the vote. Putin moved to centralize power in Moscow and attempted to limit the power and influence of both the regional governors and wealthy business leaders. Although Russia remained economically stagnant, Putin brought his nation a measure of political stability it never had under the mercurial and erratic Yeltsin.
Putin was reelected president in March 2004, with 70% of the vote. International election observers considered the process less than democratic.

Geography

Area:
Russia is a country that stretches over a vast expanse of Europe and Asia. With an area of 17,075,200 km2, it is the largest country in the world by land mass, covering almost twice the territory of the next-largest country, Canada.

Topography:
Broad plain with low hills west of Urals in European Russia and vast coniferous forests and tundra east of Urals in Siberia. Uplands and mountains along southern border regions in Caucasus Mountains. About 10 percent of land area swampland, about 45 percent covered by forest.

The useful information

Passports/ Visas
Private invitation (Izveshenie)
Period of validity stated by OVIR
Issued to your friends in Russia by the OVIR.
This must be the original document, not a fax or photocopy.
Tourist invitation
Maximum period of 29 days.
Issued by a registered company, and consists of official confirmation and a voucher for accommodation bearing the reference number of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
This may be faxed to you from a registered organization in Russia.
The original documents may be required by some Embassies. Check with the one you will be applying to. Hotel vouchers alone are not acceptable.
Business invitation
3 month double-entry. 6 or 12 month multi-entry.
A business or organization, registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can issue the invitation from the MofFA, with the official reference number* on it.
Most countries require the original.
Transit visas
Maximum period 72 hours.
An invitation is not required, but a copy of the travel tickets, and a valid visa (if needed) for the country of entry and exit from Russia is required.

Card of Insurance
New regulations recently introduced require that citizens from either a Shengen State, Estonia, Finland or Israel must send a 'Card of Insurance' with their visa application.
If you are a citizen of Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Luxembourg, Portugal, Spain, Estonia, Finland or Israel, please check with the Russian Embassy or Consulate you are applying to as their exact requirements. Failure to provide correct details of your insurance cover could lead to the refusal of your visa.
American citizens generally have to complete a revised FORM95, check with the Consular Department where you are applying.

Customs
You can import goods that are not intended for sale without paying customs duty. You have to declare expensive jewelry and other valuables and use the "red corridor" when going through the customs. In other cases tourists can go through the "green corridor". There is no limit on how much cash you can bring in. When leaving the country you must declare cash if the amount exceeds $10,000. A special bank authorization will be required in this case. If you bought an original piece of art that is not of any significant cultural value you have to present the customs officer a signed and stamped receipt from an antique shop certified by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation. Icons cannot be brought outside of the country. It is also not allowed to carry out of the country more than one pack of one brand of medicine, more than 5 kilos of fish and craw-fish, more than 280 grams of black caviar per person and more than five gold and platinum items weighing altogether not more than 130 grams (120 grams for silver), etc. When crossing the border by car you can only have 20 liters of gas in a can. Souvenir coins with precious metal content can only be brought out of the country with a special permission of the Central Bank of Russia and you can only take away a limited amount of regular coins.

Health
To enter Russia you must have medical insurance covering minimum expenses of 15,000 US dollars. The most widespread risks that it must cover are accidents and medical emergencies. Foreign tourists usually get travel insurance for a trip to Russia at the same company where they have life insurance. It is good to check if this company has affiliated service centers in the cities in Russia that you want to visit. If there are no such centers, the company would usually re-insure the customer with a Russian partner company.

Currency
You can exchange currency practically everywhere (US dollars, euros) - in banks, currency exchange booths on the streets, in hotels, supermarkets, at train stations and in airports. The exchange rate is set by the Central Bank of Russia.
Many currency exchange booths in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities work around the clock. Commercial banks in Russia work with individuals from 9.30 a.m. to 7.00 p.m. - 9.00 p.m. on weekdays, state Sberbank branches from 8.30 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., on Saturdays certain banks work 13-14 hours. However the exchange rate in Sberbank is often lower than in other banks. Credit cards and traveler's checks have limited use since they are usually accepted only in large cities, hotels and supermarkets. Commission for cashing a check is usually 2-3%. You can transfer money using the services of such companies as TT, Western Union, MoneyGram.

Transport
In the capital and other major cities several types of public transport are usually available - subway (metro), bus, trolley-bus and tram.
The most popular public transport in Moscow is subway. It consists of 11 lines and almost 160 stations. It is open from 5.30 in the morning to 1 in the morning. It is also worth mentioning that many stations are in fact works of art, decorated with mosaics, stained glass and bas-relief sculptures. There are special sightseeing tours in the subway organized by travel agencies.

Climate
Ranges from steppes in the south through humid continental in much of European Russia; subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north; winters vary from cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along Arctic coast

Electricity
Everywhere in Russia 220 Volt and 50 Hz AC current supplies are used. Most of the sockets are standard European-size for double round-pin plugs, the same as in France or Germany. Appliances from the US, Canada, Britain will need adaptors (it's better to buy them in your own country, as it's very hard to find them in Russia). Power cuts and not very common, but the electricity current is not as high quality as in Europe (power surges), so if you have a sensitive device it's better to get a stabilizer for it.

Tipping
If a service charge is not already included in your restaurant bill, you might wish to leave the small change that is returned to you. Tips are not obligatory, but welcomed in Russia - from 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the total is normal.

Shopping
One great thing about Russia is that all shops are opened even on Sunday. The food shops are usually open from 8.00 to 20.00 except Sundays - from 8.00 to 18.00, however many are opened 24 hours a day, even in small villages.
Big department stores, clothing stores, supermarkets are open all week from 9.00-10.00 to 21.00-22.00.

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