Of the territory corresponding to the current European Russia the ancients knew only the south-western part next to the Euxine, along which since the middle of the century VII a. C. Greek colonies settled (Olbia, Panticapeo, Teodosia). Beyond the lower course of the major rivers that flow into the Euxine, their knowledge was incomplete and uncertain, not only as regards the physical characteristics of the northern regions, where a great chain of mountains (Rhipei or Rhiphaei) was usually located, that would have given origin to those rivers, but also for the populations who lived there (Scythians or Sarmatians), around which the news was contradictory and mixed with fables. Even with the Romans there was no real progress in this field, because commercial relations with the East, while not lacking, they did little to mutual acquaintance, kept as they were essentially by means of intermediaries. A more direct flow of trade took place between Russia and Byzantium, with the expansion of Christianity, but for over two centuries (XIII-XV) the Mongol conquest made relations between East and West Europe increasingly difficult. The Christian missions, first of all that of Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (1245-47), mark a crucial moment in the development of knowledge on the Russian territory, if only because they draw the attention of the European peoples to this. However, only after the establishment of a strong unitary state (principality of Moscow), its definitive emancipation from the Tatar yoke (1480) and the beginning of regular exchanges with the nations of central Europe, did we have some notions precise on the Russian territory and its people, even if limited, always, to a rather small part of the current European Russia. The first geographical descriptions of this, due to Paolo Giovio (1525) and the German Sigismund of Herberstein (1549), and the first printed geographical maps (that of Antonio Wied of Danzig is from 1542) slightly go beyond central Russia (Moscovia) and southern. For the other regions, and above all for those of the far north, there was for a long time only rather vague and fragmentary news, so that a knowledge in some way comparable to that which the European states already possessed of their territory in the mid-century. XVII, it reached Russia only a century later. However, the participation of local scholars in the
Surface and boundaries. – The surface data concerning the Russian territories vary considerably according to the different sources, and even the official ones do not always agree with each other. The USSR extends between the following extreme points: 77 ° 37 ′ (Cape Čéljuskin −35 ° 38 ′ N. (border with Afghanistan) and 169 ° 40 ′ W (C. Dežnev on the Bering Strait) −26 ° 9 ′ E. (Ukrainian-Polish border west of Žitomir); therefore for 42 ° in latitude and 164 ° in longitude. The OE. Axis (about 8000 km.) Is double that NS. According to recent official data, the USSR measures 21,176,187 sq km; it is therefore in first place among the states of the Earth for breadth of continuous territory (China with 8.5 and the United States with 8 million sq km, respectively, follow at a considerable distance); on the second, if we consider the complex of possessions, even detached (the British Empire measures 39.8; the French 11.5 million sq. km.). Russian domination extends for more 4 / 5 in Asia, and for a little less than 1 / 5 in Europe, occupying 43% of this, that the 37% and thus representing 4.2% of the Earth’s surface and the 14,30% of the land (about 68 times the supeificie of the reign of Italy). The total population was 1 January 1933 to 166, 3 million residents, Which assigns the USSR imerso place in the world (after the British Empire and China): the population of which a little less than 3 / 4 (125 millions) belong to European Russia. In this way the USSR, while just collects the 8% of the residents of Earth, alone absorbs slightly less than 1 / 4 than those of the European continent, surpassing in this any other state (about double the population of Germany, over three times that of Italy).
The territory of the USSR is bordered for the most part by seas: the Arctic Ocean to the North., the Baltic Sea to the NW, the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan to the East., the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea to S., but all closed or unsuitable for navigation, except for the westernmost part (Murmansk coast) of the former, towards which the new state tends to direct its trade as much as possible. Land borders affect two distinct sectors. The Western, or European, puts Russia in contact with 5 states: Finland (1590 km.), Estonia (310 km.), Latvia (259 km.), Poland (1407 km.) And Romania (732 km.), sometimes coinciding with lakes, swamps (Rokitno) or rivers (Dnestr). The southern, or Asian, is not continuous. A first strip, which runs in the Caspian isthmus, divides the USSR from Turkey (480 km.) and from northwestern Persia or Azerbaijan (600 km.); beyond the Caspian, the border subsequently touches Persia (940 km.), Afghānistan (1800 km.), Sin-Kiang and Chuguchak (1450 km.), Mongolia, Tannu-Tuwa, Manchuria and Japan; another small detached strip is the one that separates, along the 50 ° N., the two halves of the island of Sakhalin, of which the southern part belongs to Japan. In this second sector the border is identified with more or less high and impervious mountainous reliefs, except in the section to E. (wholesale) of 117 ° E., where it is almost entirely represented by watercourses (Argun, Amur, Ussuri, L. Chanka).
While political boundaries thus place the vast domain in direct relationship with very different forms of civilization, the USSR is interested, by its very geographical position, in many of the greatest problems of world politics, even beyond its immediate contacts: to those of the Balkan region in the Black Sea sector, to those of South Asia, beyond the Afghan corridor (India), to those, finally, of North America through the Pacific and the seas that close it to N., where the possession Russian faces the coasts of the United States (Alaska).
From European Russia – to which the following news refers properly – Ukraine and White Russia will be kept separate (for which see the respective entries); it should also always be remembered that the administrative limits do not coincide with the most commonly adopted borders for the natural region. This is understood here limited, for practical reasons, by: the western border, the Caucasus, the Ural River and the Urals, resulting in a territory of approximately 4620,000 sq km. (fifteen times that of the Kingdom of Italy). The transural regions, corresponding to the former governorates of Sverdlovsk, Chelyabinsk and Tyumen, are excluded, while that part (172 thousand sq km) of Kazakhstan which extends W of the Ural River is included.