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Regions and Cities for Expats in Russia

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: January 2014

Physical Features

With a total land area of 17,100,000 km2, Russia is by far the largest country in the world, nearly twice the size of the next largest, Canada. As would be expected, many types of terrain can be found in Russia, from the prairies, steppe and semi-desert in the southwest to the vast tracts of forest – especially taiga (swampy forest) – tundra, and permafrost in the north and east.

Western, or European Russia, is essentially a colossal plain, which runs all the way from Russia’s western border to the Ural Mountains. Further east of this is Asian Russia, which continues into the West Siberian Plain, and, to the east of that, the Central Siberian Plateau. This vast area is drained by huge rivers, such as the Ob’-Irtysh and Yenisey Rivers, two of the longest in the world. From southern central Russia to the far east of the country are several mountain ranges and also Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world.


Political Divisions

The Russian Federation is made up of 89 political divisions or ‘federal subjects’: 50 oblasts, 21 autonomous republics, ten okrugs, six krays and two federal cities. These political divisions range in size from city-sized to Yakutia (or the Sakha Republic), the largest political subdivision in the world. Many of the republics are inhabited by a particular ethnic minority, and have some degree of autonomy. In most of the other regions, ethnic Russians predominate. Since 2010, Russia has been divided into eight super-divisions, called federal districts, as follows:

Federal District Area

Population Density
per km2)
North-Western 1,677,900 13,583,800 8.1 St Petersburg
Central 652,800 38,438,600 58.9 Moscow
Southern 418,500 13,856,700 33.1 Rostov-on-Don
North Caucasian 170,700 9,496,800 55.6 Pyatigorsk
Volga 1,038,000 29,900,400 28.8 Nizhniy Novgorod
Ural 1,788,900 12,082,700 6.8 Yekaterinburg
Siberian 5,114,800 19,254,300 3.8 Novosibirsk
Far Eastern 6,215,900 6,291,900 1.0 Khabarovsk


The first five of these federal districts constitute the European part of Russia. Despite taking up only a quarter of the total area of the country, more than 100 million people live in European Russia. This area contains most of Russia’s arable land and is the most developed.

The North-Western region is mostly too cold for farming, though logging, chiefly for pine and spruce, is important. The regional capital and former national capital is St Petersburg, which is also Russia’s second-largest city. Planned early in the 18th century with an aim to opening the country to the Baltic Sea, St Petersburg is built on a grand scale and contains some magnificent architecture. This region borders on Finland and there are many lakes. In addition, on the north coast, there are the seasonal Arctic Ocean ports of Arkhangelsk (Archangel) and Murmansk.

Considering it lies on Russia’s western border, the name of the ‘Central’ region is indicative, as it suggests, quite correctly, that this area is the heartland of the country. In the centre of the Central region is the national capital, Moscow, which dominates Russia in virtually every sphere: political, economic, industrial and cultural. Moscow is also known for the austere splendour of its buildings, particularly the Kremlin, which contains the simply unimproveable St Basil’s Cathedral. The Central region is densely populated and important in terms of both agriculture and manufacturing. Other large cities include Yaroslavl’, Ryazan’ and Voronezh.

The Volga federal district contains several autonomous republics, such as the Turkic Tatarstan, Bashkortostan and the Uralic-speaking Mordovia. The region is important for agriculture and there is also considerable manufacturing along the Volga valley.

The Southern region has warmer summers and somewhat milder winters than the rest of the country. Nevertheless the soil is only good in the northern part of the region. The largest cities here are Rostov-on-Don and Volgograd, the legendary Stalingrad of the Second World War. To the south of this is the North Caucasus region, formerly known as Transcaucasia. This is a mountainous, ethnically diverse but trouble-hit area of small autonomous republics, many of which are currently agitating for independence.

The Ural, Siberian, and Far Eastern federal districts make up the Asian part of Russia. Parts of this area have undergone dramatic population decline since the collapse of the USSR as government subsidies have dried up. Asian Russia has a few large cities, such as Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk and Irkutsk, though most of the land is uninhabitable.

The south of the Ural region is actually quite well developed. The Ural Mountains are rich in many minerals, and extractive industries are important. The north is largely forest and tundra, through which the great Ob’-Irtysh River flows. Uralic peoples such as the Nenets and Khanty are among the few inhabitants of this area.

Similarly, the south of the Siberian federal district contains some developed areas, in a strip from Omsk to Irkutsk, via the capital, Novosibirsk, which is the third largest city in Russia. The north is overwhelmingly deserted – Siberia is not proverbial for wilderness for nothing.

The Far Eastern federal district, an even larger slice of the world’s land territory, is about as far-flung as anywhere in the world. This  enormous expanse of land is even more sparsely populated than the Siberian federal district. Only the southern strip has any serious population.  The largest city is the capital, Khabarovsk, which is near the Chinese border. Vladivostok, close to both China and North Korea, is Russia’s only Pacific Ocean port.




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