Pippa C., one of our excellent Year 12 geographers, has written this essay on Russia as an entry to the 2015 Trinity College Geography Essay Prize.
Still securely named as one of the ‘seven great powers of the world’, Russia, with its dominating scale, size and vast population, can comfortably be described as the most important place in the world. Geographically speaking, Russia’s magnitude and physical enormity (17 million area sq km) may help to explain her dominance as a world power in a more physical sense, reflecting her mammoth population of 142 million citizens. Indeed, the importance of Russia as a place and country is exacerbated by its historical significance, military capability, richness in energy resources and her geo-political/international influence, continuing to exercise power in the foreign affairs capability category to a high degree. Furthermore, imposing large threats through her nuclear arsenal and supremacy over other major powers.
Russia’s geographical location, typology and lithology demonstrate the importance of this place as source of energy supply. With its vast landscape, particularly among the east European craton, Russia enjoys a complex array of igneous and metamorphic rocks, elucidating as to why it is so rich in energy resources. Moreover, the country contains the largest known natural gas reserves of any state on earth, accompanied by the second largest coal reserves and an eighth of the world’s largest oil reserves. Consequently, it is only evident that Russia’s importance as a major power derives from the dependence of other developed and developing countries for their imports, including Germany and Ukraine. Indeed, in 2007, the European Union as a whole imported 185 million tonnes of crude oil, accounting for 32.5% total oil imports. However, political tensions arose as a result of the reliance on Russia as a supplier of resources, which has continued to show its significance and importance towards other countries in the EU. Dependent on Russia for ¾ of its gas supply, the dispute and disruption of the pipeline in 2004 had significant knock on effects for the country of Ukraine, causing debts of over $4 million. The geographical location and positioning of Russia in Europe certainly complements its titanic supply of energy and the economic status of the country; allowing Russia to provide the adequate infrastructure needed for these pipelines, including four through Belarus and five through Ukraine. Internally, Russia is becoming increasingly energy secure, allowing it to thrive economically, thus increasing the importance of the country/place as a geographical location. Indeed, Hydropower, a renewable energy source, now accounts for 21% of Russia’s energy production, with 102 plants now in operation, thus reducing its reliance on finite resources.
However, Russia’s climate and geographical location has in fact, undermined its importance in some other methods of production, such as agriculture. The Tundra and Taiga (permafrost), making up 20 per cent of European Russia, cannot support human life (with temperatures plummeting down to -25 degrees Celsius in parts of Siberia), nor vegetation as the subsoil is permanently frozen. Russia’s sheer scale results in a continental climate, having severe ramifications on outdoor production and as a result, hindering her development during the nineteenth century. Throughout Russian history, the vast scale and isolation of the sparsely populated area has resulted in poor communication between areas. In addition, unpredictable weather patterns led to a lack of incentive from Russian farmers and additionally, short growing seasons lead to limited agricultural activity. With the benefit of hindsight, it can be concluded that with Russia’s geography and climate, recent centuries have proved that multiple problems for the state have aroused as a result of geographical location, including a famine in 1891-2, killing an estimated 400,000. The importance of this being, such major events may have been prevented if Russia was/hadn’t been so overpopulated in such a dramatic climate experienced by the country. In the long- term and looking from this perspective today, these geographical challenges continue, and are exacerbated by Russia’s small and rapidly ageing population, declining each year between 1993-2009, due to high mortality rates and low fertility. In the end, it could be these demographic and geographic factors, which may prove decisive in determining the future of Russia and issues regarding her economy.
However, these climatic features accompanied by the increasing menace of global climate change may be, in fact, beneficial to the county of Russia, increasing its importance as a developing ‘”global breadbasket”. According to Vladislav Bolov, head of the Emergency Situations Ministry’s centre for Forecasting and Monitoring, increased global warming could result in the steady reduction of permafrost by 10-18% of its current size. Although harmful to the modern architecture built on the thawing layers of permafrost today, new land unveiled, which has been concealed by the permafrost for hundreds of years, may produce nutrient filled and fertile soils, complete with multiple agricultural opportunities. Additionally, Russia’s currently declining population may be reversed and rejuvenated by an increase in migration from job seekers, keen to get involved in these employment opportunities made vacant by the new land exposed by climate change, whilst also possessing, on average, 10% of the world’s arable land. Furthermore, Russia’s continued expansion of sea routes through and around the arctic circle are said to be of significant importance towards the country’s trade and economic stability, improving the transport of its natural resources as well as maintaining healthy partnerships with China. The significance of this, and the improving relations between the two counties, could result in the Northern Sea Route rivalling the success of the Suez Canal, a fundamental threat to the stable economy of Great Britain. Indeed, continuing melting of the ice and permafrost allows the Northern Sea Route to be used all year round, which is currently 13,000km long.
In conclusion, despite important physical factors contributing to the further economic success of Russia as a geographical location, politically, this evidently portrays her increasing power as a ‘threat’, which is deemed to be even more significant. Russia has proved its importance as a geo-political threat to other countries in the EU, and on larger scale, the US. With its corrupt political system and excessive nuclear power (Russia and the USA possessing 90% of world nuclear power alone), disputes with Ukraine over the years have portrayed Russia as a dominating, yet ominous country. As a member of G8 summit and the Kyoto Protocol (a binding agreement which sets limits on carbon emissions released by countries), the country still poses a threat beyond Ukraine in which its aggression resulting from a “paranoid political culture” has frightened Westerners. However, this ‘scare mongering’ tactic may be only used to highlight and increase media coverage of Russia itself, forcing the world to take note of their position and ‘importance’ as a nation today. The future of Russia as an important place in the world is said to escalate even further. With the FIFA World Cup looming in 2026, this silver lining will in fact, further improve infrastructure throughout the country, including a high-speed motorway connecting St Petersburg and Moscow. Secondly, numerous long-term employment opportunities will arouse as well as a gargantuan income from Tourism. Furthermore, this will help to ease the reliance of the ‘oil and gas dependent’ economy and to reduce politics of interdependence.
See trin.cam.ac.uk/essay-prizes/geography for more information on the prize.