Russia has been in the news a fair bit lately, and perhaps you have decided it is time to learn a little bit more about Russia. Perhaps you noticed the news recently - that over a course of several days (February 6 - 15, 2017), five Russian heads resigned... heads of the the republics of Karelia and Buryatia, and the governors of Novgorod and Ryazan oblasts, as well as the governor of Perm krai. And then your next thought, without a doubt, was, "Wait, what are these oblasts, republics and krais anyway?"
So here you are, about to find out.
Russia, officially known as the Russian Federation, is made up of 85 federal subjects - republics, krais, oblasts, autonomous okrugs, federal cities and an autonomous oblast. It can be pretty confusing to understand the differences, and keep straight what's what and where.
So I've brought you a couple of resources that might help you out a bit.
First up, a youtube video by VanDeGraph: Russian Federation Explained. Watch this video to learn the history of how the various federal subjects came to be, and what their primary differences are in terms of powers.
If you want to memorize the names of the federal subjects and where they are, you could watch this next video. It's cheesy and annoying, and you probably STILL won't know where all the federal subjects are, but you will hear how to pronounce their names... and the chorus is catchy.
Chances are, you still can't name them all or place them on a map... 'cause c'mon, there are 85 of them and it's no easy task. So we've turned our Russian: federal subjects quiz into a customizable quiz. This way, you can pick which ones you want to start with, and learn at your own pace. The Russian: federal subjects quiz can be customized by anyone with a free account on Lizard Point Quizzes.
Or you could try one of these quizzes to start off:
It is a bit of an axiom to state that geography dictates history. Leaders through time immemorial have played the cards that were dealt them in terms of their land's terrain, mountains, rivers and climate. In today's world, with technology essentially shrinking distance, we may be a little inclined to discount the true influence of geography on world matters. The recent Atlantic piece by Tim Marshall entitled, Russia and the Curse of Geography, does an excellent job of underlining its critical importance - notwithstanding technology.
The European Plain, directly to Russia's west, has throughout history been a challenge for Russia. With no significant geographical barriers, this has been the path of many invaders into the motherland. The Poles came across the European Plain in 1605, followed by the Swedes in 1707, the French under Napoleon in 1812, and the Germans twice, in both world wars, in 1914 and 1941. The plains would also explain why Russia has repeatedly invaded Poland - occupying Poland allows for a defence of the plains at their narrowest point (300 miles).
The other key challenge to Russia is access to warm water ports. Without those, Russia is limited to the world's busiest sea-lanes only during warmer weather. Their northern ports are in the Arctic and their major port on the Pacific Ocean, Vladivostok, is enclosed by the Sea of Japan, and under largely Japanese control.
These two key strategic factors, Russia's vulnerability on land and its lack of access to warm-water ports, came together in Ukraine in 2014. When protests in Ukraine brought down the pro-Russia government and a new, more pro-Western government came to power, Putin did what Russian leaders have done for centuries. He chose his own kind of attack as defense, annexing Crimea to ensure Russia’s access to its only proper warm-water port, and moving to prevent NATO from creeping even closer to Russia’s border.
The article goes on to discuss similar rationale regarding Syria. Click the link for a fascinating read and reminder of the power of geography.