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Reasons Behind Russia’s Large Geography and Low Population

Russia, one of the most populous countries on Earth, has an enormous area that stretches over both Asia and Europe. Russia’s vastness, spanning an estimated 17.1 million square kilometers, is enough to pique interest. But what frequently confounds onlookers is the sharp contrast between the vastness of its terrain and the comparatively small number of people who live there.

Historical Background

Russia’s large territory and low population are historically the result of centuries of territorial expansion and demographic reasons.

The establishment of the principality of Muscovy marked the beginning of Russia’s journey throughout the Middle Ages. The foundation for the eventual Russian Empire was built by this principality as it grew in power. As nearby territories, especially those populated by numerous ethnic groups, were assimilated, the process of territory acquisition was noticeable. Russia’s frontiers were expanded eastward, westward, and southward during this period of growth, which was fueled by both military victories and strategic purchases. 

Russia’s eastern region of Siberia, which is large and thinly inhabited, was essential to the country’s territorial growth. Cossack traders and explorers initiated the 16th-century exploration and settlement of Siberia. Siberia’s annexation resulted in enormous geographic richness, including enormous tracts of land and priceless fur resources. Nonetheless, the low population density of the area was influenced by the hostile environment, rough terrain, and nomadic way of life of the native peoples.

Russia’s geography was largely shaped by the Ural Mountains, which are often seen as the line between Europe and Asia. The enormous stretches of Siberia and the Far East are in sharp contrast to the western portion of Russia, which includes large towns like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Geographic variety posed serious obstacles to connection and the establishment of a unified, centralized government.

Russia was modernized and westernized throughout the imperial era, especially under Peter the Great’s rule. This featured the Russian Empire’s territorial expansion into the Baltic area, increasing its size. The population remained concentrated in some areas, and the empire’s sheer vastness presented governance issues.

Historical occurrences like the Mongol invasion in the 13th century, which led to depopulation and altered settlement patterns, further worsened the demographic imbalance. In addition, societal upheavals, famines, and numerous wars all led to variations in population growth.

During the Soviet era, attempts were made to modernize and industrialize the nation, frequently at the expense of the rural populace. While population distribution throughout the enormous territory of the Soviet Union was a difficulty, it was not always addressed by the collectivization of farmland and the forced movement of people to industrial hubs, which changed settlement patterns.

Russia had demographic difficulties in the post-Soviet era, such as a falling birth rate and an exodus from rural to urban regions. Regional economic differences remained, with a greater proportion of the population being drawn to the more developed western areas.

Geographical Impact on Russia’s Less Population

1) Dimensions and Geographic Range

Russia is the world’s biggest nation, including both Asia and Europe. Several climatic zones, including steppe, taiga, tundra, and desert areas, are covered by its enormous territory. Russia’s immense size presents difficulties for resource distribution, infrastructure development, and transportation. Due to their severe weather and isolated locations, several parts of the country—especially in Siberia and the Far East—remain sparsely inhabited.

2) Extreme Weather

A sizable section of Russia’s landmass is subject to harsh weather, including harsh winters and difficult topography. For instance, Siberia is well-known for its extremely cold temperatures and large stretches of deserted territory. These areas are uninhabitable, which deters large-scale farming and habitation, resulting in low population densities.

3) Transportation Corridors and Rivers:

Russia’s river systems—the Volga, Ob, and Lena rivers, among others—have long been vital to trade and transportation. These rivers have produced more hospitable and economically viable settlements. But in Siberia and other far-off places, huge stretches of land between river systems have prevented the development of highly populated metropolitan areas.

4) Imbalances in the Economy

Population distribution is influenced by economic activity, which is frequently strongly related to topographical factors. Natural resource-rich areas, including those rich in minerals and oil, may see an increase in both population and economic activity. On the other hand, places with few economic prospects, such as those in the Far East, can see a decline in population and a lack of infrastructure.

Read More: Why Does Russia Have a Diverse Political System?

Political Reasoning

Russia’s demographic distribution was significantly impacted by the industrialization and central planning programs of the Soviet era, which changed population dynamics, urbanization, and settlement patterns throughout the great majority of the nation. 

1) Metropolitan Areas and Industrial Hubs

To turn the rural country into an economic superpower, the Soviet leadership, especially under Joseph Stalin, pushed for quick industrialization. Large-scale industrial initiatives were started, which resulted in the growth of already-existing metropolitan areas and the creation of new ones. People moved from rural regions to cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other industrial hubs in search of work in factories and other industries, which resulted in a huge increase in population.

2) Labor Allocation and Forced Migration

Large-scale population migration was required for central planning in order to support industrial initiatives. Programs for forced migration and relocation were put in place to guarantee that there would be workers available for industrialization. There were population distribution changes as a result of people moving from rural to urban and industrial sectors. The goal of this centralized method was to strategically distribute human resources among important economic sectors.

3) Formation of Resource-Rich Areas

Resources were allocated by the Soviet government to the development of resource-rich areas, which resulted in the construction of industrial complexes in locations rich in minerals, metals, and oil. This strategy encouraged population expansion in areas of economic significance, which had an impact on the distribution of demographics. Cities in resource-rich regions developed and became hubs of population and industry.

4) Rural Area Apathy

Rural communities were frequently neglected, while metropolitan centers benefited greatly from the industrialization effort. Living standards in urban and rural areas differ because central planning gives priority to industrial and urban growth. The demographic disparity between urban and rural areas was exacerbated as a result of the difficulties experienced by rural inhabitants, including restricted access to contemporary amenities and economic possibilities.

5) Changes in Ethnic Republics’ Demographics

Each of the several republics that made up the Soviet Union had a unique ethnic makeup. In these republics, central planning had an impact on population shifts, occasionally leading to demographic imbalances. For example, the economic policies put in place by the central government caused changes in the number and distribution of the population within several ethnic groups.

Read More: List of 15 Countries That Were Part of the Soviet Union

6) Opportunities for Education and Employment

Greater job and educational possibilities resulted from the emphasis on industry, especially in metropolitan regions. The enhancement of education and training programs was prompted by the need for a qualified workforce in industrial areas. Younger generations were thus lured to metropolitan areas in search of better educational and employment opportunities, which influenced demographic changes.

7) Infrastructure Development

Substantial expenditures in infrastructure and social services were made in urban areas, which contributed to an increase in population. The accessibility of services like healthcare, education, and cultural venues in urban areas attracted people and shaped the demographic terrain.

Significant demographic shifts were facilitated by Soviet industrialization and central planning, but it’s crucial to remember that these programs had drawbacks and long-term effects as well. There are still differences in Russia’s demographic distribution as a result of the country’s reliance on heavy industries, environmental damage, and disregard for some areas.

What Steps the Russian Government is Taking with Population Issues?

The Russian government has been taking proactive measures to tackle the issues caused by a comparatively low rate of population growth. These measures include social, economic, and demographic policies. These programs seek to alleviate regional inequities, support family well-being, and stimulate population development.

The development of family support services is a key component of the government’s approach. Given the significance of families in reviving the population, financial incentives have been implemented to incentivize couples to increase their child count. This covers tax benefits for families with several children, maternity capital programs, and direct subsidies. The government hopes to create a more conducive climate for population expansion by reducing some of the financial worries related to raising bigger children through financial support.

The Russian government has improved maternity and parental leave rules in addition to offering financial incentives. The stability of families and the general wellbeing of children are enhanced by extended maternity leave and rewards for parents who take time off to care for their children. These laws invest in the future generation’s health and development in addition to helping families in their formative years.

The government’s attempts to improve population well-being mostly rely on healthcare measures. Enhancing healthcare services guarantees that every individual has access to high-quality medical treatment, especially in rural and sparsely populated areas. A healthier population is a result of maternal and child health initiatives as well as more general healthcare advancements, which are essential elements of the government’s demographic policy.

Programs for education have also been designed to give people the information and abilities necessary for social and economic advancement. A long-term plan to empower people and enhance community well-being must include investments in education, including raising educational standards and making it more accessible in different areas.

The Russian government has put regional development initiatives into action to alleviate population distribution inequalities between regions. These initiatives concentrate on investing in less populous areas, creating jobs, and improving infrastructure. The government wants to counteract the impacts of depopulation by attracting and keeping people in these places by enhancing living conditions and economic possibilities. 

The government’s strategy also includes financial incentives for companies to operate and develop in depopulating areas. Incentives such as tax breaks and other policies have been explored as ways to boost the economy, provide employment, and entice companies to locate in areas where there may be a population decrease.

The impact of migration policy on population dynamics has been examined. In order to alleviate demographic imbalances, expedite immigration processes, and draw in skilled migrants, the government has looked into these options. A well-managed migration strategy may augment natural population expansion with an intake of highly trained individuals.

Campaigns for public awareness have been launched to educate and involve the public about the value of family, family planning, and the resources for help that are available. These efforts aim to bring about a cultural shift in favor of bigger families and an appreciation of the advantages that population expansion brings to society.


Russia is a large country with a small population that is the result of several historical conquests, difficult physical conditions, and political choices. The distribution of the population reflects the complexity of the country’s past, as does the legacy of the Soviet era and the Russian Empire, in addition to the region’s varied and sometimes severe topography. Addressing these issues will be essential to promoting sustainable growth and guaranteeing a more equitable distribution of Russia’s people over its enormous territory as it continues to change.


Why Does Russia’s Territory Cover Such a Large Area?

Russia’s vast territory is the result of centuries of geopolitical calculations, strategic acquisitions, and imperial expansion. Ruling families such as Ivan the Terrible and Catherine the Great left a huge territorial area that is largely responsible for modern-day Russia.

What Impact Did Past Conquests Have on the Vast Terrain of Russia?

Russia’s frontiers were largely expanded by historical conquests, especially during the imperial era. The country’s enormous size was a result of territorial gains from surrounding areas as well as annexations like the annexation of Siberia in the 16th and 17th centuries.

How Has Russia’s Low Population Density been Impacted by Geography?

Russia’s varied topography, which includes large swathes of uninhabitable land, severe weather, and isolated areas, has deterred widespread colonization. Lower population densities can be seen in various regions of the nation as a result of historical circumstances combined with population concentration in more hospitable places.

What Effect Did Soviet Policies Have on the Distribution of Russia’s Population?

Population dynamics were impacted by collectivization, industrialization, and forced migration throughout the Soviet era. Industrialization led to the expansion of metropolitan centers while neglecting rural areas. This had a role in the concentration of people in some areas and in demographic imbalances.

What Impact Have Russia’s Demographic Issues Had Historically on Geopolitics?

Russia’s demographic issues have been affected by wars, shifting alliances, and geopolitical factors. The current demographic environment is shaped by historical events like the Mongol invasion and geopolitical warfare, which also had an influence on population variations and settlement patterns.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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