Russia is in the news these days. There can be that this huge country continues to be a key global player even decades after the fall of the USSR (Union of Soviet Republics). But, leaving politics aside, Russia is also worth discussing because of its sheer physical size and unique geographical location.
What continent is Russia in?
- 23% of Russia is on the Eurasian continent
- 77% of Russia is on the Asian continent
With a total area of 6,592,800 (square miles) or 144,463,200 (square kilometers), Russia is the largest nation on Earth. The whole of Europe is, in fact, smaller than Russia covering only an area of 3,930,0000 (square miles) or 10,180,000 (square miles).
So, how can Russia be in Europe? The quickest answer to that question is that Russia is only partially in Europe. Russia, in fact, has part of its territory in Europe and part of it in Asia.
|Largest city||Moscow – 10,415,400|
|Capital city||Moscow – 10,415,400|
|Major religion||Christianity, Islam|
|Monetary unit||Russian ruble|
|Alternative names||Russian Federation, Rossiyskaya Federatsiya, Russia, Rossiya|
|Area||17,098,242 SQ. KM|
|GDP Per Capita||$26,926.00|
Although all lists of continents include Europe and Asia as two distinct continents, the fact is that Europe and Asia form one continuing landmass stretching all the way from the Atlantic Ocean in the West to the Pacific Ocean in the East.
Russia’s territory straddles both continents, which gives it a true Eurasian character that can also be observed in the country’s cultural and ethnic make-up. Russia, of course, is not the only country that has part of its territory on two different continents. Staying in Europe, there’s also Turkey, which covers part of Europe and part of Asia or Spain, which covers part of Europe (Iberia) and Africa.
So, while Russia shares a European (Western) and an Asian (Eastern) heritage, Turkey is a bridge between Europe and Asia, and Spain between Europe and Africa. But going back to Russia, the fact is that Russia is both in Europe and in Asia.
How Much of Russia Is In Europe And How Much In Asia?
Before answering that question we need to define the borders of Europe and Asia. In other words, we need to know where Europe’s eastern border (or, if we take a less Euro-centric view, Asia’s western border). The accepted “natural” border between Europe and Asia are the Ural Mountains. So the land west of the Urals is part of Europe, and anything east of it is Asia. It is generally accepted now that 23% of Russia is in Europe and 77% in Asia. But if we look at demographics, the overwhelming part of the population lives in the European part of Russia. The largest and most populated cities in Russia (Moscow, St Petersburg) are in Europe.
Officially, Russia itself doesn’t define itself as either a European or an Asian country. Unofficially, if we asked around (both in Russia and abroad), most people would probably say that Russia is in Europe. Even, with the loss of the Baltic Republics (Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania), Russia still has a territory in central Europe: Kaliningrad.
Europe or Asia Debate
If Russia shuts off central Asia and the Caspian Sea from Europe, the European allies of the United States will be totally dependent on Russian gas and energy. – Mikheil Saakashvili
Within Russia, intellectuals have been debating where Russia should be more invested in Europe or in Asia since the mid 19th century. This debate wasn’t even halted with the October revolution and the subsequent creation of the Soviet Union, and it continues to this day.
This debate is not only at the core of Russian identity but also its future. Should Russia stride to create links and foster understanding with Asian countries or with the nations of Europe?
Beyond geography, there are more philosophical and social-political strategic considerations to be made when discussing whether Russia should officially be in Europe or in Asia. The geographical question is already quite complex because, as we have seen, Europe and Asia form one landmass and not merely two that are near each other. All continents, with the exception of Australia (also referred to as Oceania by some authors), are close to each other. But in the case of Europe and Asia, they are only “separated” by a mountain range and not a body of water.
So while, say, Africa is separated from Europe by the strait of Gibraltar and by Asia by the Suez Canal, there is only a mountain range between Europe and Asia. So what separates Asia from Europe is the analogous to, for example, what separates the Iberian Peninsula (Continental Portugal and Spain) from the rest of Europe. Yet, nobody intellectually sound would argue that Portugal and Spain are not part of Europe.
Physical geography is rarely clear-cut and it is never the only consideration that needs to be made when talking not only of continents but, more specifically, about modern nation-states.
Are Russians European or Asian?
If we consider culture and ethnicity, most Russians (including many who live in the Asian part of the country) would firmly consider themselves to be European. But it is also true that many Russians would consider themselves to be Asian.
These two different backgrounds have co-existed within Russian borders for hundreds of years. Like many European and Asian civilizations, Russia was once an expanding empire. This fact goes a long way to explaining both the nation’s territorial vastness and native ethnic diversity. So, while other nations (for example, the United States of America or Canada) are ethnically diverse largely because of historical waves of immigration and the slave trade (until the 19th century), Russia, however, is ethnically diverse largely to hundreds of years of imperialistic territorial expansion and the assimilation of different peoples that goes with it.
How Unique Is Russia?
Every nation-state on Earth is unique in its own way. And, indubitably, the fact that Russia expands from Europe to Asia is responsible for much of Russian identity. However, as we saw earlier, there are other countries that have parts of their territory on different continents. Apart from Turkey or Spain, we could also include France who has part of its territory in Africa, the Americas, and the Pacific, as part of its colonial past; or Egypt that it is partially in Asia and partially in Africa.
So, while officially Russia hasn’t yet resolved whether it is in Europe or in Asia, it seems clear that from both a geographical and an ethnocultural viewpoint Russia is actually on both continents.