The bulk of Russia’s manufacturing base dates back to the Soviet era

Economy

The bulk of Russia’s manufacturing base dates back to the Soviet era

For over half a century, the Russian economy, like that of the rest of the USSR, was centrally planned

The state controlled virtually all investment, production and consumption across the country. Economic policy was shaped by the Communist Party. The transition towards a market economy in the 1990s was painful. Radical liberalisation reforms and massive crash privatisation wiped out the living standards of millions, while crime and corruption flourished. In 1998, Russia was hit with a dramatic economic breakdown as the rouble spectacularly collapsed.

But after a decade of crisis, Russia has bounced back. Rising oil prices, increased  foreign investment, higher domestic consumption and political stability have bolstered the economic boom. Russia became the fastest growing economy in the G8, ending 2007 with its ninth straight year of growth, averaging 7 per cent annually since 2003.

After years of underachievement, Russia emerged as the world’s leading natural gas exporter and the second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia. Fuelled by oil revenues, it repaid its Soviet-era debt to Paris Club creditors and the International Monetary Fund.

Poverty has declined steadily and the middle class has grown. So has the number of Russia’s super-rich. The country’s freshly minted billionaires now play on the global stage, sweeping up luxury property, places at top universities and sports franchises. But economic development has been uneven throughout the country, and while the Moscow region booms, the rest, especially rural eras, lags far behind. The bulk of Russia’s manufacturing base dates back to the Soviet era. The country inherited most of the USSR’s defence industry, making it one of the world’s major weapons exporters. Efforts have been made to put military industries on civil rails but successful conversion remains a challenge.

And there are other challenges to face. Despite more then a decade of talks, Russia’s still been unable to join the WTO. Moscow applied for membership in 1993 and although formally Russia’s getting closer to accession, progress has been slow. The country is now pushing to diversify its economy, develop small business and invest in human capital. The Putin government launched a multi-billion investment programme in nanotechnology and started an ambitious social scheme to boost the sectors of housing, agriculture, healthcare and education.

How cold do you think Russia can get?

Climate

Winter — -10°C Summer — 20-25°C

How cold do you think Russia can get?

The Russian winter certainly guarantees plenty of snow and frost… but not everywhere. And it doesn’t last forever. Russia’s climate varies dramatically, from the deep Arctic chill of the far north to the searing desert heat of some inland areas further south. Yet, throughout much of the country there are only two distinct seasons – winter and summer. Spring and autumn are only brief spells of change in between.

Winters in Russia’s European part are nothing like as terrifying as many myths have it. In Moscow and St. Petersburg the first snow usually falls in late November and stays till early April. The average winter temperature is about -10°C. Colder snaps are not uncommon, but winter chills are compensated for by splendid summers. St. Petersburg usually enjoys 20-25°C and Moscow often swelters in highs of 35-37°C.

Down south, Russia’s vast steppe is hot and dry. Winters are short but cold. In the city of Volgograd, the weather starts flirting with freezing point as early as November. But the Black Sea resort of Sochi makes up for the rest of the country with a sizzling 35°C between June and August – no wonder it is Russia’s top summer holiday spot.

On the other side of the Ural Mountains, Siberia – contrary to its popular image – isn’t the land of eternal ice. It does have a summer – actually quite a warm and pleasant one, with temperatures climbing to 20°C and higher. The weather is rather wet though, so there are mosquitoes. But, true to form, winters are severe. A deadly -50°C is not unheard of. This bone-chilling cold produces the so-called “whisper of the stars”. As you breathe out, water vapor turns into tiny icicles that fall down with a melodic tinkle.

In the Far East, inland areas can get very hot with a tropical 40°C. Coastal regions are much cooler and wetter. Winter is normally milder than in Siberia. The port of Vladivostok sees a typical -13°C in January. And if you think that’s cold – stay away from the village of Oymyakon in north-eastern Siberia. With the lowest recorded temperature of -71.2°C, it’s the world’s coldest inhabited place.