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Russia Travel GuideSome information and tips about Russia
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.
The development of international trade and naval warfare led Russia to the realisation in the seventeenth century that it was significantly disadvantaged since its mainland was served by only one ice-free port (Russia’s average annual temperature is -5.5ºC). Russia contains all of the world’s vegetation zones except a tropical rain forest. Its size means that it has a continental climate. The coldest weather is experienced in the north and east, yet summer weather patterns mean that Verkhoyansk in Siberia has the earth’s widest temperature range, with a record low of -68ºC and a record high of 37ºC!
Russia’s geography and climate hindered her development through the nineteenth century, at a time when the rest of Europe was modernising. The country was unlikely to experience a European-style agrarian revolution, and thus it would have been almost impossible for Russia to undergo a spontaneous industrial revolution. Agriculture was too precarious.
Perversely, the regions worst suited to agriculture receive the highest levels of rainfall. Whereas precipitation in Western Europe is distributed evenly through the year, July and August tend to deliver around 25 per cent of annual rain in European Russia. In the 1800s, in the south and west, Russia’s most productive soil regions, rainfall patterns (droughts in early summer and/or downpours around harvest time) conspired to ruin one harvest in three.
Even when the harvest was good, yields were poor compared with the rest of Europe. By the nineteenth century, Russian yields (the number of grains harvested for every one sown) had barely increased since the Middle Ages, while average Western European yields had increased by four and a half times. A major reason for this was that farmers simply did not attempt to improve production. Communications were so poor that any potential market in a city was too far away for individual farmers to supply. Farming was so difficult that many Russians viewed it as something to escape from.
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