Limited access to year-round seaports has always been a military and commercial problem.
A lack of natural borders has meant vulnerability to invasion, a danger offset by the size of the country and its harsh, long winters.
Many great rivers transect the country, such as the Dvina, Don, Oka, and Volga in the European heartland and the Ob, Yenisei, and Lena in Siberia; most of these rivers are linked by subsidiary waterways.
Until the advent of railways and roads, the rivers were the only efficient way to travel, and they remain a significant form of transport for people and materials.
Equally important is the ability of rural and urban dwellers to survive challenging conditions of land, climate, and politics.
Tens of millions of families depend on food they grow for themselves. In July 1999, the population was estimated at 146,393,000, a decline of more than two million since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Malnutrition, disease, industrial pollution, poor health care, and reliance on abortion for birth control have reduced fertility rates and increased maternal and infant mortality.
Two large industrial cities are located above the Arctic Circle: Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula and Norilsk in Siberia.
The great plains are divided by six ecological bands.
It is largely the result of the economic and social upheavals of the postsocialist period, which have impoverished the population and caused a decay of social services.
Growing unemployment, long-term nonpayment of wages and pensions, paid wages that are below the poverty line, unsafe working and road conditions, the spread of infectious diseases, and the impoverishment of public health care systems have caused stress, depression, family breakdown, and rising rates of alcoholism, suicide, homicide, and domestic violence.