Sprawling across most of northern Eurasia, Russia is the world’s largest country. A multi-ethnic nation with nearly 160 distinct ethnic groups, it has one of the world’s largest economies and is a member of the G8, APEC, and the Commonwealth of Independent States.
Russia is a true giant in every sense of the word; it possesses the most land territory and the most natural resources of any country, is home to the world’s largest forest and fresh water reserves, and has produced hundreds of luminaries in every sphere of the humanities and sciences. Under the tsars it held the world’s third largest empire, but the poor conditions of the working class and growing income gap led to persistent popular discontent, culminating in the Revolution of 1917, which established Russia as the world’s first communist state. The 20th century saw numerous hard times for the country, including severe losses during World War II, bouts of internal political persecution and ineffective governance, and the Cold War with the Western powers; nevertheless, it was a superpower during this time, with the world’s second largest economy and tremendous military strength.
The current Russian polity, the Russian Federation, was formed following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Its immediate transference to a free market system proved economically disastrous, as unemployment and inflation skyrocketed; however, Russia made considerable progress in the ensuing decades, and today has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. It holds tremendous fossil fuel reserves and mineral resources; its military is one of the strongest on Earth, supported by a huge arms industry that is also a major source of export revenue. Russia has the largest number of higher education graduates in Europe; it has become a major research hub, owing to its many and well-funded educational institutions with a long tradition of emphasis in science and technology, and a propitious academic environment.
Most immigrants to Russia come from other Russian-speaking CIS states, attracted by Russia’s many work opportunities and the lack of linguistic barriers. A growing stream of cultural exchange has been opening with Western countries since the late Soviet era. Education, especially in the sciences, is a major lure for foreigners, as are business opportunities. Note that Moscow was recently named the most expensive city to live in for expatriates, so it may be a good idea to start saving before your trip abroad…or to consider alternative destinations within Russia. Many of Russia’s indigenous and rural communities are significantly less developed, and volunteer-minded travelers might find satisfying work there.
About 100 languages are spoken in Russia, but Russian is official throughout the country, and spoken by the majority of people. It is written using the Cyrillic script, and is surprisingly non-dialectic, considering its range; it is also a widely used language of science, with over 25% of the world’s scientific literature published in Russian. English is commonly learned as a second language, and of the minority languages, Tatar and German have the most speakers.