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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Global Position and Boundaries

Located in the middle and northern latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, the Soviet Union on the whole is much closer to the North Pole than to the equator. Individual country comparisons are of little value in gauging the enormous size (more than twice that of the United States) and diversity of the Soviet Union. A far better perspective comes by viewing the country as a truly continental-sized landmass only slightly smaller than North America and larger than South America in both area and population.

The country's 22.4 million square kilometers include one-sixth of the earth's inhabited land area. Its western portion, more than half of all Europe, makes up just 25 percent of the Soviet Union; this, however, is where the overwhelming majority (about 72 percent) of the people live and where most industrial and agricultural activities are concentrated. It was here, roughly between the Dnepr River and the Ural Mountains, that the Russian Empire took shape and gradually over centuries expanded to the Pacific Ocean and into Central Asia.

Although its historical, political, economic, and cultural ties bind it firmly to Europe, the Soviet Union is largely an Asian country because of Siberia. For centuries this land between the Urals and the Pacific was infamous as a place of exile, a land of endless expanses of snow and frigid temperatures. In the post-World War II period, however, Siberia has also become known as a new frontier because of its treasure of natural resources.

The Soviet Union measures some 10,000 kilometers from Kaliningrad on the Gulf of Danzig in the west to Ratmanova Island (Big Diomede Island) in the Bering Strait, or roughly equivalent to the distance from Edinburgh, Scotland, east to Nome, Alaska. From the tip of the Taymyr Peninsula on the Arctic Ocean to the Central Asian town of Kushka near the Afghan border extend almost 5,000 kilometers of mostly rugged, inhospitable terrain. The east-west expanse of the continental United States would easily fit between the northern and southern borders of the Soviet Union at their extremities.

Extending for over 60,000 kilometers, the Soviet border is not only one of the world's most closely guarded but also is by far the longest. Along the nearly 20,000-kilometer-long land frontier, the Soviet Union abuts twelve countries, six on each continent. In Asia, its neighbors are the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, and Turkey; in Europe, it borders Romania, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, and Finland. Except for the icy eighty-six kilometers of the Bering Strait, it would have a thirteenth neighbor--the United States (see fig. 1).

Approximately two-thirds of the frontier is bounded by water, forming the longest and, owing to its proximity to the North Pole, probably the most useless coastline of any country. Practically all of the lengthy northern coast is well above the Arctic Circle and, with the important exception of Murmansk, which receives the warm currents of the Gulf Stream, is locked in ice much of the year. A dozen seas, part of the water systems of three oceans--the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific--wash Soviet shores.

Data as of May 1989