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Russia

Russia
Russia
Russia
(SOLODOV ALEKSEY/Shutterstock)
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Overview

Despite being the largest country in the world by area, the Russian Federation occupies territory that is indefensible and unforgiving. The core of Russia, running from the Volga grain belts up through Moscow proper to the Baltic Sea, lacks any natural features to fortify it from attack. This is why the country has traditionally anchored its territory to major geographic barriers far from its core in an attempt to keep foreign powers distant. As a result, Russia has inevitably had to reach east across the frozen tundra of Siberia to the Pacific Ocean, southeast to the Tien Shen mountains of Central Asia, south to the Caucasus Mountains bordering Iran and Turkey, and finally west to the Carpathian Mountains in Central Europe. But, there is one major hole in this geographic expanse: The Northern European plane. The Northern European plane is a gap between the Carpathian Mountains and the Baltic sea which, at its narrowest, is 480 kilometers (300 miles) across. This narrow point, referred to as the Polish funnel, lies just West of Warsaw and reaches down Krakow in the south. Russia has faced three major attackers along this axis; Napoleon, Wilhelm II, and Hitler. Most recently, the expansion of NATO and the European Union into Central and Eastern Europe has raised Russian hackles. Moscow would much prefer to control the lands between Russia and the Polish funnel -- pushing as far west as possible -- knowing full well that once an attacker has passed that narrow chokepoint, it is an open march to Russia's heartland. For this reason, Moscow seeks to occupy or influence its borderlands, or at the very least, maintain their neutrality. Looking beyond its indefensible borders and largely hollow interior, Russia boasts a diverse population of 144,463,450 people and a powerful military. These armed forces, backed by an autocratic political system, help protect the country's unwieldy land mass. Russia's economy is inherently fragile and highly dependent on commodity exports ranging from grain to energy. The country is traditionally at its most powerful when a strong, heavy-handed leader is in charge, such as current Russian President Vladimir Putin. Despite this, though, the Kremlin must continually deal with internal political divisions, rising ethnic tensions and regional dissidence.

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