Russian Economic Geography

August 6, 2009by CaraTan


Rome, Italy, 6 August 2009. In the second part of our series on how geography influences economics, we look at Russia.

Whereas the US is blessed with an abundance favourable geographic factors, Russia is almost its polar opposite; it contains vast tracts of land that is hard to defend and difficult to farm, with only one major river - and even that leads to a dead-end sea. The Russian economy is continually taxed by the need to build and maintain transportation infrastructure and an expansive military strategy.

On the surface, it may appear that Russia is blessed with many of the geographic traits the US has, leading to the prospect of economic power and efficient resource-allocation.

This is not the case. The arctic ports can hardly be compared to the Chesapeake Bay. The Volga does pass near St. Petersburg and Moscow, but then it dumps into the Caspian, which is frozen for much of the year. Even when navigable, this land-locked sea only offers access to Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan, hardly key trade partners.

The country is so vast and remote, and has such a small amount of good arable land, with so few major cities west of St. Petersburg and Moscow, that it has entirely insufficient transcontinental roads and rail networks.

Therefore it cannot move troops around quickly or easily, which means large armies have to be permanently posted from the ports near Korea such as Vladivostok to the Finnish border on the Kola Peninsula.

These armies are an ongoing drain for Russia and played a part in the USSR's break-up. This need to occupy so much land - across vastly diverse peoples and cultures, ensures the burdens of labor, infrastructure, and capital shortages will remain.

Without central-planning and directive spending, Russia would never be able to keep the incongruent nation together. But heavily investing here and there can show what look like positive results, which Russia likes to selectively announce to the world.

The government structure and Communist legacy have empowered the elite and left the general population to fend for themselves. Corruption, unaccountability, and criminalization of government projects have kept Russia from developing, only exacerbating its geographic shortfalls. Russian life expectancy has been falling alarmingly, even as Russia projects increasing geo-political strength onto the international stage.

While this may seem like an anomoly, it is in fact a consistent pattern of Russia's history, a pattern that its geography dictates.

Bjorn Borgisky,


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