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Seventy-eight percent of the population lives in this area.Two large industrial cities are located above the Arctic Circle: Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula and Norilsk in Siberia.Until the advent of railways and roads, the rivers were the only efficient way to travel, and they remain a significant form of transport for people and materials.Limited access to year-round seaports has always been a military and commercial problem.Tens of millions of families depend on food they grow for themselves. In July 1999, the population was estimated at 146,393,000, a decline of more than two million since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.The current figure includes several million immigrants and refugees from newly independent former Soviet republics.With the exception of the black earth belt, Russia has fairly poor soil, a short growing season, low precipitation, and large arid steppe regions unfit for agriculture except with extensive irrigation.
These environmental factors have affected the demographic profile and shaped cultural, social, and political institutions, influencing colonizing projects, settlement patterns, household configurations, village politics, agricultural systems, and military technologies.
People ethnically identified as Russians have been politically and culturally dominant in a vast area for five hundred years of tsarist and Soviet imperial expansion.
However, despite repression of their cultural autonomy, minority cultures have survived within the Russian Federation; including the peoples of the North Caucasus, numerous indigenous groups in Siberia, the Tatars in the Volga region, and the East Slavic Ukrainians and Belorusians.
The great plains are divided by six ecological bands.
In the northeast, above the Arctic Circle, lies a huge expanse of frigid, occasionally marshy tundra, a nearly unpopulated region where much of the land is permanently frozen and little grows but moss and shrubs.