Country of the World U.S.S.R. or Russia

About the country Russia or the U.S.S.R., its location, size, population, leaders and rulers.




Lay of the Land: The world's largest nation in territorial size, the U.S.S.R. stretches 6,000 mi.--one quarter of the distance around the equator--from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Bering Strait in the east and 3,000 mi. from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Iranian border in the south. The U.S.S.R. is about 2 1/2 times the size of the U.S. and 7 times the size of India.

Although it is geographically diverse and complex, the U.S.S.R. can be divided roughly into two distinct halves. The western half consists mainly of extensive plains, including the fertile Ukraine, while the eastern half is composed generally of mountains and high plateaus. The Siberian tundra stretches across the north from the Urals to the Pacific Ocean.

The major rivers west of the Urals--the Don, Dnieper, and Volga--flow south, while the Ob-Irtysh, Yenisey, and Lena rivers in Siberia all flow north to the Arctic Ocean. In southeast Siberia is the world's deepest lake, Lake Baikal.

Size: 8,649,489 sq. mi. (22,402,200 sq. km.).

Population: 261 million.

Who Rules: In 1977 a new Soviet constitution was drafted and enacted into law, replacing the Stalinist constitution of 1936. However, this new constitution left the structure of the Soviet government virtually the same, apart from creating a few new offices and initiating some long-overdue reforms.

Under the present constitution, a bicameral legislature is elected by universal suffrage. The two legislative chambers--the Soviet of the Union, and the Soviet of Nationalities--form the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R., which elects the nation's two executive bodies, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and the Council of Ministers, headed by the president and the premier, respectively. The Presidium deals with legislative questions and issues decrees when the Supreme Soviet is not in session (all but four days a year). The Council of Ministers coordinates government operations and controls economic planning and management.

Who REALLY Rules: The leadership elite of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) is the true ruler of the U.S.S.R. This elite is composed of several thousand high-ranking, fulltime Party functionaries, known as the apparatchiki and led by the secretary-general. The party selects all candidates for political office.

At least 75% of the representatives in the Supreme Soviet are Party members, while membership in the Presidium and Council of Ministers is reserved almost exclusively for Communist apparatchiki. The offices of president and premier have always been held by members of the Party Central Committee.

Despite the 1975 Helsinki accord, the Soviet government has seriously cracked down on the Soviet dissident movement. Dissenters are imprisoned, thrown into KGB--secret police--operated insane asylums, deported to the West, or exiled to remote places in the U.S.S.R. There are over 10,000 political prisoners in the Soviet Union.

Although not so prevalent as in the U.S., criminal activity is widespread in the U.S.S.R. and shows no sign of disappearing in the near future. Most disturbing and embarrassing for the Soviet government are the "economic crimes against the state," which account for one sixth of all convictions in the U.S.S.R. These crimes include theft of government property and embezzlement of state funds, for which the accused can receive the death penalty. As an added measure, a special police agency, entitled the Division for the Struggle against Theft of State Property, was recently established.

Visitors' activities are closely monitored by bureaucratic agencies, notably Intourist. Rules of etiquette are strict and sometimes inexplicable. People are forbidden to wear their coats inside museums and restaurants, for example.

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