An Illistrated History of Russia

An Illistrated History of Russia

An Illistrated History of Russia

An Illistrated History of Russia

Excerpt

The most obvious thing about Russia may also be the most illuminating: her sheer size. One sixth of the land surface of the earth, and the equivalent of the entire North American continent, it is by far the largest country in the world.

Politically considered, modern Russia --the Soviet Union--is all the more striking because it began only some six centuries ago with the 500 square miles of the tiny principality of Moscow; a combination of territorial absorption and pervasive colonization has extended it from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific coast, from the Arctic Ocean to the Black and Caspian Seas, and all along the northern borders of Persia, Afganistan, India and China.

But in spite of its size and its wide variety of climatic zones, from the barren tundra of the extreme north to the lush orchard groves of the Crimea and Caucasus and the cotton plantations of Turkestan, a certain monotony, undisturbed by any abrupt elevations, gives an essential unity to the Eurasian plain that stretches from Hungary to China

The Urals, which in schoolbooks still separate Europe from Asia, are altogether negligible--a chain of dwarf hills rising no more than 1,500 feet above sea level, with any number of easy passages. Passages so easy, in fact, that it has always been perfectly possible to go through them. There has never been any serious obstacle to movements back and forth across the great plain.

Extensive in space though Russia has been for so long, it is European Russia that must be looked to for an explanation of Russian history, and basic communications in European Russia have been ensured by a ramified waterway system. The lowlying watersheds of Central Russia are the sources of a number of great rivers like the Volga, the Dnieper, and the Western Dvina. Even in pre-Russian history the cluster of great waterways formed by the proximity of the outlets of the main rivers and their numerous tributaries were used by a variety of drifting peoples who settled and came into contact with other peoples both West and East. It was the waterways, also, that promoted the conquest of Siberia, since the Volga water system merges with the western Siberian system of the Ob.

This self-centred quality of Russian history is accentuated still further by the contrast between the relative insignificance of Russia's shoreline and her internal capaciousness. The Arctic Ocean and the White Sea are for all practical purposes useless; the Caspian Sea for all its size is quite landlocked. As for the Black Sea and the Baltic, they played no role in Russian history until the Eighteenth Century, when the cardinal traits of the nation-state were already formed.

The importance of the steppe in the formation of Russia has deflected atten- . . .

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