If you truly want to explore Russia — if you really want to get a sense of the vast number of cultures, languages, religions and peoples that exist (and remarkably coexist) there — you may nod in the direction of Moscow and St. Petersburg, but then turn your attention elsewhere. When you have a moment, open up your mind, clear some space in it for some new information about a part of world didn’t even know you didn’t know, and join All Around This World for…
A Tour of Russia!!
The last time you were in Russia you saw all there was to see, right? In Moscow you visited Red Square and snapped photos of the Kremlin. In St. Petersburg you spent the day at the Winter Palace. That’s great, you’ve been there. But there’s more. Much, much, much more. The Russian Federation is far from a homogeneous slab. If fact, it’s composed of 83 “federal subjects” — republics, “oblasts” and “okrugs” — and we must get to know at least some of them. Why? Because when most of us think about the largest country in the world we just know the names of two cities. That’s alone is reason to learn more.
The Russian Federation is composed of:
— 21 republics:
A Russian republic is an autonomous area in which the ethnic Russians are not in the majority — or, were not, until the last century’s internal migration, forced or otherwise, changed many republics’ demographics. Each republic’s traditional indigenous ethnic group still gives that republic its name. Each republic also has its own constitution, president and parliament.
— 46 oblasts (provinces):
Each oblast has a federally appointed governor but elects its own legislature.
— 9 krais (territories):
Sort of like oblasts.
— 4 autonomous okrugs (autonomous districts):
A little more autonomous than oblasts but a little less than republics.
— 1 autonomous oblast (autonomous province):
The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, which Russia designated in 1934 to be a Jewish “homeland.” That didn’t quite work.
— 2 federal cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Let’s leave the oblasts and okrugs for some other time and take ourselves on a brief tour of the republics. We’ll separate the republics into three bunches — the European Republics, the Central Republics and the Asian Republics — but we’ll still unearth an interesting fact or two about each. For a map, look either at Wikipedia’s page on the Republics of Russia or at this map of Russia’s autonomous areas. Thanks to Russia the Great for its characterizations of many of these republics.
The Central Republics (most are near the Volga River): Most of these multi-ethnic republics in the far-southeastern European plains have thrived economically since the fall of the Soviet Union because of their rich deposits of oil and other minerals.
The Asian/Siberian Republics: These geographically vast republics in the Asian part of Russia known as Siberia are home to a variety of ethnic and national groups that have almost as much in common with Mongolians or Chinese as they do with the distant European-dominated Russian government.