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Churchill's "Riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" remains an apt description of Russia; most outsiders have only a hazy idea of its realities. A composite of the extravagant glories of old Russia and the drab legacies of the Soviet era, it's a country that both befuddles and beguiles.

This is a land of snow and deadly winters, but also of rivers that meander across meadows and a midsummer sun that never sets. Its people, in the words of a Russian proverb, 'love to suffer', yet they also love to party and can be disarmingly generous and hospitable.

The unfolding effects of a deregulated market economy are surrounded by rumours of rampant crime and prostitution, relentless drug-trafficking, mile-long queues for nonexistent food and a general end-of-the-world aura. But with countless cultural treasures having withstood the tribulations of history and economics, and an artistic legacy running the gamut from Karenina to Zhivago, Russia remains a must-see destination.


Travellers are strongly advised against travel in Chechnya and Dagestan. It is currently not safe to travel in these areas, as well as in neighbouring Ingushetia. Military clashes, kidnapping of aid workers and foreigners, violent crimes and muggings are prevalent.

Other neighbouring areas of concern include North Ossetia, Stavropol, Karachayevo-Cherkessiya and Kabardino-Balkariya. Events in all these places are difficult to understand and can change rapidly. On-the-ground consular support can be negligible or non-existent.

Full country name: Russian Federation
Area: 17.07 million sq km
Population: 144.53 million
Capital City: Moscow (pop 9 million)
People: 81% Russian, 4% Tatar, 3% Ukrainian and numerous ethnic minorities
Language: Russian
Religion: Russian Orthodox, Islam, Animist
Government: federation
Head of State: President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Head of Government: Prime Minister Mikhail Kassianov

GDP: US$1.4 trillion
GDP per capita: US$9,700
Annual Growth: 4%
Inflation: 15.1%
Major Industries: Oil, coal, iron ore, timber, automotive, agricultural and construction equipment
Major Trading Partners: EU (esp. Germany), Belarus, Ukraine, USA, China
Member of EU: No


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