Country Listing

Russia Table of Contents


Natural Resources

Russia is the largest country in the world; it covers a vast amount of topographically varied territory, including much that is inaccessible by conventional modes of transportation. The traditional centers of economic activity are almost exclusively located in the more hospitable European part of Russia, which once offered considerable coal and natural gas to drive heavy industry (see fig. 7). But the European fuel base was largely depleted by the 1980s, forcing Russia to rely on Siberian deposits much farther from the industrial heartland.

Russia is one of the world's richest countries in raw materials, many of which are significant inputs for an industrial economy. Russia accounts for around 20 percent of the world's production of oil and natural gas and possesses large reserves of both fuels. This abundance has made Russia virtually self-sufficient in energy and a large-scale exporter of fuels. Oil and gas were primary hard-currency earners for the Soviet Union, and they remain so for the Russian Federation. Russia also is self-sufficient in nearly all major industrial raw materials and has at least some reserves of every industrially valuable nonfuel mineral--even after the productive mines of Ukraine, Kazakstan, and Uzbekistan no longer were directly accessible. Tin, tungsten, bauxite, and mercury were among the few natural materials imported in the Soviet period. Russia possesses rich reserves of iron ore, manganese, chromium, nickel, platinum, titanium, copper, tin, lead, tungsten, diamonds, phosphates, and gold, and the forests of Siberia contain an estimated one-fifth of the world's timber, mainly conifers (see fig. 8; Environmental Conditions, ch. 3).

The iron ore deposits of the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly, close to the Ukrainian border in the southwest, are believed to contain one-sixth of the world's total reserves. Intensive exploitation began there in the 1950s. Other large iron ore deposits are located in the Kola Peninsula, Karelia, south-central Siberia, and the Far East. The largest copper deposits are located in the Kola Peninsula and the Urals, and lead and zinc are found in North Ossetia.


Climatic and geographic factors limit Russia's agricultural activity to about 10 percent of the country's total land area. Of that amount, about 60 percent is used for crops, the remainder for pasture and meadow (see table 15, Appendix). In the European part of Russia, the most productive land is in the Central Chernozem Economic Region and the Volga Economic Region, which occupy the grasslands between Ukraine and Kazakstan. More than 65 percent of the land in those regions is devoted to agriculture. In Siberia and the Far East, the most productive areas are the southernmost regions. Fodder crops dominate in the colder regions, and intensity of cultivation generally is higher in European Russia. The last expansion of cultivated land occurred in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when the Virgin Lands program of Nikita Khrushchev opened land in southwestern Siberia (and neighboring Kazakstan) for cultivation. In the mid-1990s, about 15 percent of the working population was occupied in agriculture, with the proportion dropping slowly as the younger population left rural areas to seek economic opportunities elsewhere (see Rural Life, ch. 5).

Data as of July 1996