Russia’s Climate and Geography

John Etty examines how far history has been moulded by enviroment.

Modern textbooks on Russian history often include an introductory chapter on the country’s climate and natural geography. Writers, it seems, believe Russia’s physical environment is either so significant or so widely misunderstood that students must receive an explicit description. Natural geography and climate are not always important in a region’s history, however, and it is possible to overstate the impact that Russia’s geography has had on its history. The winter defeats of Napoleon and Hitler, for instance, were more than just seasonal coincidences. Nevertheless, the nature of Russia’s physical environment has undoubtedly had a significant impact on its history in recent centuries. 

Russia’s Size

Though Russia is now smaller (at 17,000,000 square miles) than both the Tsarist Empire before 1917 and the USSR in 1945-1991 (both around 22,400,000 square miles), since the expansion of Muscovy and the days of Ivan IV, the first ‘Tsar of All the Russians’, Russia has always been among the world’s largest nations. Russia is presently the largest country in the world – almost twice as big as the next largest, Canada, and 70 times larger than the UK – and its size has always been the basis of its colossal potential strength.

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