Natural Resources

Minerals

During the Soviet era, Russia along with the rest of the Soviet Union increased its mineral production to become one of the world's leading producers. Today, Russia ranks first among nations in the production of natural gas and is among the world's top five producers of crude oil, iron ore, nickel, gold, and diamonds.

Rich iron ore deposits form the basis for the country's large iron and steel industries. The largest ore deposits are in the Kursk area of central European Russia, the Urals, and the southern part of central Siberia. Other areas with large deposits include eastern Siberia, the Kola peninsula, and southern Karelia.

Deposits of anthracite, bituminous coal, and lower-grade coals are widespread. Russia's largest reserves are in the Tunguska and Lena basins in eastern Siberia. These, however, have not been mined extensively because of their great distance from large population and industrial centers. The Kuznetsk Basin in south-central Siberia is Russia's greatest coal-producing region. Other important regions include the Pechora Basin in northeastern European Russia, the Kansk-Achinsk Basin in south-central Siberia, and an area near the Ukrainian border in the Donets Basin.

The large oil resources of Russia were not exploited until the mid-1950's, when Soviet oil production shifted from the Caucasian oil fields of Baku, Grozny, and Kuban to the Volga-Ural field, or Second Baku, which lies between the Volga River and the Urals. In the mid-1960's production began to shift to the enormously rich Tyumen fields, in western Siberia. Today the Tyumen fields account for nearly two-thirds of Russia's oil production. Lesser quantities come from the Bashkir and Tatar republics, in European Russia.

Natural gas production is also centered in western Siberia. The Urengoy field, in the Yamal Nenets Autonomous Area, is the most productive region.

The Ural Mountains are one of the most intensively mined parts of Russia. A great variety of metals, including ferrous and precious metals, are produced, as well as many nonmetallic ores. Siberia is rapidly developing into a major mining region. Of the many nonfuel minerals produced, gold and diamonds are the most important.

Waterpower

One of Russia's greatest natural resources is waterpower. The amount of hydroelectric power produced is just a small part of Russia's potential production, which is exceeded only by that of equatorial Africa.

No hydroelectric power was produced during czarist times. During the Soviet period, especially after the early 1930's, many dams, reservoirs, and power plants were constructed. Particularly important power stations in European Russia include those on the Volga and Kama rivers. In Siberia lies Russia's greatest potential source of hydroelectric power. The Sayan-Shushenskoye and Krasnoyarsk power stations on the Yenisey River and the Bratsk and Boguchany power stations on the Angara are among the world's greatest producers of hydroelectric power.

Plants and Animals

Except for the semiarid and subtropical regions in the southwest, and the mountainous areas, Russia may be divided into three large regions characterized by the types of plant and animal life they support: the tundra, the forest, and the steppe.

The Tundra

is a cold, treeless area bordering the Arctic Ocean. During the summer thaw, the tundra abounds in bogs and marshes. Mosses, lichens, sedges, and small shrubs, such as dwarf birch, willow, and juniper, are the chief plants. Along the coast live polar bear, walrus, and seal. The reindeer, lemming, arctic fox, hare, and ermine are among the most common animals inland. Birds are plentiful, especially such migratory waterfowl as ducks and geese. During the summer the land swarms with mosquitoes.

The Forest Region

is south of the tundra. Spanning the country from east to west and varying from 800 to 1,600 miles (1,300 to 2,600 km) in width, the forests of Russia are the most extensive in the world. The taiga, a coniferous forest, makes up the northern and central part of the forest belt. Pines, firs, and larches predominate. The southern part of the forest belt is made up mainly of deciduous trees---oak, aspen, hornbeam, linden, ash, alder, elm, maple, and, above all, birch.

The forests are rich in wildlife. Animals include brown bears, wolves, elk, deer, lynxes, gluttons (animals similar to wolverines), foxes, sables, martens, badgers, and more than 200 species of birds.

The Steppe is a vast area similar to the prairies of North America. In the north is a region, sometimes called the forest steppe, made up mainly of grasslands and scattered deciduous forests. Some of Russia's richest agricultural soils are found here. Below this area is the open steppe, made up almost entirely of grasslands.

The steppe extends from the Ukrainian border to the Urals and beyond, into western Siberia. In central and eastern Siberia the steppe lands are small and scattered.

This region has been settled for centuries. Except for the antelope and the wolf, there are few large animals. There are, however, a great number of burrowing animals--- hamsters, jerboas, lemmings, moles, rabbits, rats, skunks, and, especially, ground squirrels. There are also many kinds of birds, including kites, bitterns, and hawks.

Russia has varied and abundant natural resources. It depends on few foreign sources for needed raw materials and is probably the most self-sufficient industrialized country in the world. Many of its resources, however, are only partially developed. Vast areas remain undeveloped, mainly because of their remote location and lack of transportation facilities.