Full name: the Russian Federation
Population: 144 million people as at November of 2014
Area: 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi)
Major language: Russian
Recognised languages: 35 other languages co-official in various regions
Major religions: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism
Life expactancy: 59 years (men), 73 years (women)
Monetary unit: 1 rouble = 100 kopecks
Internet domain: .ru, .su, .rf
International dialing code: +7
Government: Federal semi-presidential constitutional republic
President - Vladimir Putin
Prime Minister - Dmitry Medvedev
The official holidays
- 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 January — New Year Holidays;
- 7 January — Christmas, Russian Orthodox;
- 23 February — Defender of Motherland Day;
- 8 March — International Women's Day;
- 1 May — Labor Day;
- 9 May — Victory Day (Over German Nazism in the WW2);
- 12 June — Day of Russia;
- 4 November — Day of the National Unity.
The New Year is first on the calendar and in popularity. Many celebrate it twice, on January 1 and 14 (which corresponds to January 1 in the Julian calendar, used in Russia before 1918.
February 23 - Day, known until recently as Soviet Army Day, popularly viewed as holiday for all men and closely followed by its female counter-part, Women's Day, March 8, when women receive flowers, presents and are toasted by men.
Russia celebrates Victory Day on May 9 to commemorate the millions fallen in World War II. Flowers and wreaths are laid on wartime graves on this day, and veterans come out into the streets wearing their military orders and medals.
June 12 is Day of Russia, which commemorates the adoption in 1991 of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation.
Church feasts have been reborn. Easter is celebrated nationwide, as of old, and Christmas became a day off. Muslims, Jews and Buddhists also celebrate their feasts without fear of secular authorities.
Russia has one of the world's most diverse societies – as many as 160 ethnic groups live there. The population of about 144-146 million may look like a lot but its density is low because of the country's vast size. It's also very unevenly spread, with most people clustered in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains and in southwest Siberia.
Most Russians are an urban breed – three-quarters of them live in cities. The two major ones are the capital Moscow with more than 10 million people, and St. Petersburg with more than four million. Roughly 80 per cent of the population is ethnic Russian. The rest is a mix of other ethnic groups, with the Tatars and Ukrainians making the largest minorities.
Before the 17th century Russian cuisine was quite plain and natural, without any gourmet luxuries. The cuisine fashion was sharply changed in the 18th century. The tsar of the Russian cuisine is, certainly, the soup. The range of soups is huge – borsch (beetroot soup), shchi (cabbage soup), solyanka (a spicy soup of vegetables and meat or fish), salamata, pottage, botvinia (cold soup of fish, pot-herbs, and kvas), etc. And each of those has tens of versions! French writer Alexander Duma was so impressed by the traditional Russian cabbage soup (shchi) that he asked for the recipe and included it into his private cookbook.
Russians are great lovers of pelmeni, small Siberian meat pies boiled in broth.
Every housewife of any experience has her own recipes for pies, pickles, and sauerkraut. Even more varied is the choice of recipes for mushrooms, one of the most abundant and nourishing gifts of our woods. They are fried, pickled, salted, boiled and what not.
"No dinner without bread," goes the Russian saying. Wheat loaves have dozens of varieties. As to rye bread, Russians eat more of it than any nation in the world--a peculiarity of the Russian diet.
The Russian winter certainly guarantees plenty of snow and frost… but not everywhere. And it doesn't last forever. Russia's climate varies dramatically, from the deep Arctic chill of the far north to the searing desert heat of some inland areas further south.
Winters in Russia's European part are nothing like as terrifying as many myths have it. In Moscow and St. Petersburg the first snow usually falls in late November and stays till early April. The average winter temperature is about -10°C. Colder snaps are not uncommon, but winter chills are compensated for by splendid summers. St. Petersburg usually enjoys 20-25°C and Moscow often swelters in highs of 35-37°C.
Down south, Russia's vast steppe is hot and dry. Winters are short but cold. In the city of Volgograd, the weather starts flirting with freezing point as early as November. But the Black Sea resort of Sochi makes up for the rest of the country with a sizzling 35°C between June and August – no wonder it is Russia's top summer holiday spot.
On the other side of the Ural Mountains, Siberia – contrary to its popular image – isn't the land of eternal ice. It does have a summer – actually quite a warm and pleasant one, with temperatures climbing to 20°C and higher. The weather is rather wet though, so there are mosquitoes. But, true to form, winters are severe. A deadly -50°C is not unheard of. This bone-chilling cold produces the so-called "whisper of the stars". As you breathe out, water vapor turns into tiny icicles that fall down with a melodic tinkle.
Religion plays a prominent role in the public and spiritual life of today's Russia.
The majority of believers belong to the Orthodox Christian denomination. Russia adopted Christianity under Prince Vladimir of Kiev in 988, in a ceremony patterned on Byzantine rites. Today the Russian Orthodox Church accounts for over a half of the total number registered in Russia. Next in numbers come Moslem associations, about 3,000, Baptists, 450, Seventh Day Adventists, 120, Evangelicals, 120, Old Believers, over 200, Roman Catholics, 200, Krishnaites, 68, Buddhists, 80, Judaists, 50, and Unified Evangelical Lutherans, 39.
Close to 9,000 communities belonging to over forty confessions had been officially registered in the country. The country has over 5,000 Russian Orthodox churches.
Russia's second most popular religion is Islam. It's thought the country is home to around 14 to 20 million Muslims, making up 10 to 16 per cent of Russia's population. The largest Islamic centres are Tatarstan and Bashkortostan. The republic of Tatarstan on the Volga River has as many as 1150 mosques. Its capital Kazan, an ancient Tatar stronghold, boasts the largest mosque in Russia and, reputedly, in Europe – the Qolsharif Mosque.
Russia had 150 Roman Catholic parishes, two theological seminaries and an academy before the revolution of 1917. All were suppressed in the Soviet years, and the believers -- ethnic Lithuanians, Poles and Gennans -- were banished and seattered about Siberia and Central Asia. 83 communities have reappeared by now, and Apostolic Administrations linked to the Vatican have been established in Moscow for European Russia, and in Novosibirsk for Siberia. There are four bishops and 165 priests working among the approximately 1,300,000 Catholics in the country. The theological seminary, Mary Oueen of the Apostles, opened in Moscow in 1993 and was transferred to St. Petersburg in 1995.
The two million Protestants have 1,150 communities.
Buddhism made its way to Russia in the late 16th century, when Russian explorers travelled to and settled in Siberia and the Far East. Russia's key Buddhist centre is Kalmykia. Vast steppe land on the north-western shores of the Caspian Sea, the republic of Kalmykia is the only place in Europe where Buddhism is the major religion.