Russian history has been strongly influenced by the country’s natural environment. European Russia’s relatively flat terrain and dense network of navigable rivers facilitated communications, economic development, and political unity across the region.
The frozen swamplands and dense forests of northern European Russia were unsuitable for agriculture, as they are today; however, fur pelts from the region's enormous animal population were important Russian exports that were crucial to the state treasury until the 18th century. All the medieval Russian settlements were located in a central zone of European Russia, an area with thick forests and some agricultural land. Most of the area had relatively poor soils. Therefore, this zone could not sustain a very large population until industrial development began in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The region’s forests offered security to the neighboring agricultural settlements, which were periodically raided by the tribes of fierce nomadic horsemen that dominated the vast grasslands to the south. For more than 1,000 years before 1600 these warring horsemen were more formidable soldiers than the armies of the settled agricultural communities were. It was only with the creation of a modern, disciplined army, equipped with muskets and artillery, that the Russians were able to turn the tables on the nomads. With the new army, Russians colonized the steppe and united the entire vast plain between the Baltic and Black seas. Russia’s modern identity as a powerful military state with a large population did not emerge until this process was completed in the 18th century. Indeed, even as late as the mid-18th century Russia’s population was smaller than that of France. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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