Russia’s Geography Problem

This is a Wendover Productions video made
possible by Backblaze and in collaboration with Alternate History Hub and
Real Life Lore. Russia is immense–it spans 5,000 miles across,
2,000 miles vertically12, crosses 11 time zones3, borders everywhere from Norway to
North Korea4, and is as close to Anchorage as it is
to Amsterdam5. It’s huge… but it has a problem. A problem that can explain part of why the
average Russian, living at the same latitude as Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Canada,
makes only $7,500 American dollars per year. A problem that can explain at least a portion
of almost every political decision the country
has ever made. Russia’s geography is flawed. What you have to remember about Russia is
that the majority of Russians live in Europe. 3/4 of Russia’s population lives in the
western quarter of the country6. Therefore, as a country
with a fairly centralized power system, many of its decisions go to protect the country
core in and around Moscow. You see, a lot of the success of certain countries
over others depends on how well its geography protects it. The US, for example, benefited hugely from
being an ocean away from every large military power. The only real armed forces that could threaten
the US in its infancy were in Europe and Asia and therefore any
invasion would require trans-oceanic supply lines
which are hugely expensive and logistically difficult therefore weakening an invading
army. On
the European continent, France has a similar situation—their northwestern border is protected
by the English channel, their western border
by the Atlantic Ocean, their southern border by the
Pyrenees mountains and Mediterranean ocean, their southeastern by the Alps mountains,
and their northeastern by the Rhine river7. The eastern half of their northern border
is, however, largely unprotected geographically—a flaw
Germany exploited in both World War One and World War Two by invading through Belgium
and Luxembourg—but the protection still did
concentrate attacks into a choke point and kept the country significantly more protected
than other European countries. Here’s Cody from Alternate History Hub to
explain Russia’s territorial expansion. Russia’s first territorial expansion since
it first became a unified East Slavic State in 8828 was
entirely a quest for power. But over time this growth for glory transformed
into an effort to protect the very core of the country. This early Russia was at very unprotected
and vunerable. There was no geographic protection to keep
foreigners from migrating into their lands. The only
natural resource Russia had their disposal to repel an invader was pure manpower. In the coming
centuries, what was then known as the Grand Duchy of Moscow quickly expanded. By the time
Ivan the Terrible was crowned ruler of the Tsardom of Russia, the country had spread
it’s borders east to the Urals, south to the Caucasus mountains,
and west to the Carpathians. Soon even
Siberia was conquered which before then, was an independent Khanate—a territory ruled
by a Khan. That was Cody from Alternate History Hub. I collaborated with him to make a great
video on his channel about what the world would be like if Russia had never become its
own country which I’ll link in the description and at the end of the video. Now, with all this territory, Russia, or at
least Moscow, had some serious protection9. Siberia is large enough that no army could
invade through it and make it to Moscow. The supply
lines would have to be thousands of miles long through inhospitable conditions. Not only that,
but that army with a one or two thousand mile long supply line would then have to make it
over the Ural mountains to get to Moscow10. Attacking from the south or west would also
take an army either across water or through mountains. By the time the 19th century rolled in, Russia
had truly become an unconquerable power. Countries could and can take over portions
of Russia, but there is no conceivable way that a single
country could fully occupy and conquer Russia. To
occupy a territory of that size, a country would need an estimated 13 million trained
ground troops–more than the 17 largest militaries
combined11. However, despite its defenses, Russia has
never developed economically to the same level as some of its neighbors. Its GDP per capita is
right around that of Mauritius, Grenada, and Turkey12. And this, once again, can be at least
partially attributed to Geography. Historically, naval power equaled power. The two were synonymous. There was no better
way for countries to project their power and grow their economy than to have a powerful
navy and merchant fleet. Many of the most powerful countries today–the
United Kingdom, Japan, and China for example–were ones that once had
the most powerful navies in the world. There’s a
reason that none of the 18 largest economies in the world are landlocked countries13. Up until the
last century, maritime shipping was the fastest way to get goods and people across the world
and its still cheapest way to ship goods long
distance. Having good water access allows countries
to trade with the world but Russia, despite its
23 thousand miles of coastline14, has no significant warm-water, ice-free ports with direct access
to an ocean. Alaska does, Canada does, Iceland
does, Norway does, and Sweden too, but Russia is fundamentally limited in its maritime power
because it has no easy way to access the world’s oceans year round. The port of Novorossiysk is
ice-free, but its throughput is limited both by the depth and size of the port15. St Petersburg also
has an important port, but it freezes for many months of the year. On the Pacific side, ports like
Vladivostok also occasionally freeze during the winter. But the ice is not the biggest problem
with these ports. The biggest problem is that their access to
the worlds oceans is all through choke-points controlled by either NATO countries
or NATO allies. To get to the ocean from
Novorossiysk, you need to pass through the Bosphorus straight which is controlled by
Turkey—a NATO country; to get to the ocean from St
Petersburg you need to pass through the Danish straights controlled by Denmark—also a NATO
country16; and to get to the ocean from Vladivostok and many of the other Pacific
ports you need to pass through the sea of Japan which
is controlled by Japan—a close ally of NATO. If Russia ever decided to attack a NATO country,
their access to the oceans would be restricted by these NATO countries17 because the NATO
treaty includes a mutual defense pact—if one country is attacked, all respond. This would cripple
both Russia’s navy and economy. Now, back to defenses. There’s one major flaw to Russia’s geographical
defense system– the northern European plain. Whereas every other border has a geographical
defense preventing easy invasion from a foreign army, this completely
flat plain just acts as a funnel easily bringing an army from Western Europe right up to Moscow
. While 18 a large part of the Soviet Union’s motive to expand into eastern Europe was to
spread the socialist revolution, Stalin still believed
that he needed to create a zone of buffer states in order to defend against the threat
of the USA and its allies in Western Europe19. With its influence over all of Eastern Europe,
the USSR had both manpower and political power to keep
the west far from Moscow. Since the fall of the
Soviet Union, Russia has continued to strive to keep political power in the region. Out of the 15
states that emerged from the Soviet Union, 12 joined a Commonwealth of Independent States
with Russia20–essentially aligning them politically with Russia–while three joined both NATO
and the European Union–Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. That means that, on paper, Russia still
had a strong political buffer between it and western Europe. The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad,
and the countries of Belarus and Ukraine covered almost all of the Northern European Plain. Not only that, but Russia used its influence
in Ukraine to sign a long term lease on the warmwater
port of Sevastopol which greatly expanded the naval capabilities of Russia’s black-sea
fleet21. Except, Ukraine as a whole progressed to be
more and more pro-European in the decades following the fall of the Soviet Union which
was a major reason for Russia’s invasion of Crimea. While on the surface Putin might have claimed
Russia’s invasion was to save the Russians of the
area from the increasingly westernizing country, the annexation of Crimea was in reality a
strategic imperative to keep warm-water port of Sevastopol. A Ukraine that was friendlier to the
west likely would have ended Russia’s lease on the port so in Putin’s mind, he needed
to invade Crimea in order to prevent a crippling blow
to Russia’s ocean access. Now, Russia has managed to overcome many of
its geographic challenges partially because of two things–oil and natural gas. It has enormous energy reserves partially
because of its enormous size. Russian natural gas pipelines provide for
40% of Europe’s natural gas demand. Some countries such as Bulgaria, Lithuania,
Latvia, Estonia, and Finland are almost fully dependent on Russia for their natural
gas . This 22 gas dependency is a major reason why
Germany, for example, a country with high Russian oil dependency, is much less likely
to criticize Russia than a country like the UK,
which has virtually zero Russian gas dependency. If
Russia shut off the gas to Germany, it would devastate them, but stopping gas exports to
the UK would have little effect. The US has attempted to reduce Russian influence
in Europe by exporting liquefied natural gas across the
Atlantic. It costs more, but it allows western european
countries to buy their energy from their American ally. Now, none of this discussion of ports and
power is to say that if there was no Norway or
Sweden blocking the way to the ocean and the water was a bit warmer Russia would be the
Sweden of the East. Saying that would be foolish. Geography does have an enormous influence
on human development, but it doesn’t determine it. Much of history is defined by chance, not
circumstance because, in the end, reality is just the confluence of chance and circumstance. This video was made possible by Backblaze,
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  1. I hope you like this video! I know its a bit more serious than some others ones but hopefully its still an enjoyable watch.

    Also, people have been asking for them, so I’ve put a link in the description to a copy of the script with sources in footnotes. I’ll be doing that for every video from now on.

    Please also go and check out backblaze! Sponsors make this channel happen (seriously) and Backblaze is a legitimately good product that I’ve used for a while so at the very least go and try them out with their 15 day free trial. It helps both me and you out.

  2. "It costs more, but it allows western european countries to buy their energy from their American ally.'

    Well, ain't that just dandy and convenient for the US, huh?

  3. Bernard Von Bülow stated that Germany left heaven to themselves alone. "And that's the way it should have stayed". Not being able to do anything because of the the deadlock between the left and the right he considered it was the theologians fault for being too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. Russia doesn't concern itself with policing the high seas and may settle for just taking the Mediterranean. After all Brittain and America are now in Afghanistan, which when Russia was there their action was voted against by the UN. So many people in hospice in the west are given morphine which has been a silent controversy for 60 years, a reason why America and Britain are in the opium producing districts of Afghanistan.

  4. Ah I hate to break it to you but the khanate horde invaded Rus sia in the 13th century…and during the winter time…if it wasn't for their internal dispute there wouldn't be any "Slav" telling lies on social media…

  5. Fascinating how Spain / Portugal are ignored when speaking of the importance of naval power. Nah… not important enough. Beh…

  6. Ни хрена толком не понял,но чую хрень какую-то несёт этот болтун.

  7. Russia's Geography Problem- Russia is so rich with pure water, land, gas, oil, minerals, metals, diamonds… Europe and USA is so

    jealous on you. that is the real problem here! lol

  8. In America's early years, it was invaded and occupied twice by Britain via Canada. It also had Napoleonic and Spanish armies on its Southern border.
    Making peace with Britain was the Lynch pin for USA.

  9. Russia is for the Russians. Crimea is Russian. America shouldn't interfere in European affairs. It's none of their business. And anyway they can't tell Austria from Australia. And you need to mentally, put commas, inverted commas, full stops, exclamation marks and other punctuation marks to whatever they are saying, otherwise you won't understand what they are saying.

    Americans should concentrate on maximizing their contributions to the world and nothing else. Chewing gum, Kardashians, basketball (for tall freaks), rap music where gangs of well-educated African Americans seem to have an argument with the cameras, baseball caps and "contra" baseball caps, world series competitions where other countries are not invited, seven genders, films where our hero shoots 35 bad guys in eighty-eight minutes and American Dreams which ensures that three guys' combined wealth equals that of 150 million other Americans

  10. Сколько живу во Владивостоке, никогда не слышала, что бы Япония что-то сильно решала. Если на то пошло то есть Курильские о-ва, где свободно можно проплывать.

  11. Winters used to kill of armies completely or halt their plans. Climate change makes you wonder how less frozen waters will open up advantages and disadvantages? The world is now invadedible all year round soon

  12. In 1979 Russia want to come to gawader but thy failed in Afghanistan now US failed in Afghanistan nd now China n Russia both will come to Pakistan s gawader port and building CPEC.

  13. "Invasion of Crimea" – hahaha, the Westerners having a hard time to preserve all their preconceptions about Russia alive

  14. That analysis sucks. Russia's economy does not lack know-how but money and the latter is a result of the constant turmoil that the country experiences – both externally and internally caused. All western countries are always trying to stall Russia's progress but to no avail. The most important issue is the system of governance and wealth distribution in the Russian Federation. There is a wide gap between the poor and the rich and only 2 to 3 percent of the population owns most assets. Corruption is also a great issue. Military threats are serious so Russia must keep up with its adversaries and spends an enormous amount of money on military hardware and countermeasures. That thing about choking points is totally irrelevant in terms of trade. The moment the Russian trade routes are forcibly closed is the moment of the beginning of a war waging of which neither Russians nor any other nation is interested in.

    An interesting fact that many people ignore regarding Crimea – 1991 Crimean sovereignty referendum. Google it, read about it and then discuss or assess the situation there. And find out that Ukraine de facto occupied Crimea almost 30 years ago.

  15. Complex question but simple answer.
    Western europe want it, they need it….. I don't understand why Russia don't agree to give Bakou oil fields and mines in oural.

  16. Great Russia doesn't have geographic problems & nobody is capable of creating them not even rich old Europe let alone funny small poor homeless bumming USA!

  17. Except the political establishments but not the nations of Ukraine Poland Georgia partially Bulgaria Germany Romania everyone else wants to be close to Russia for whatever reasons! Russia's problem is to satisfy fairly all inheriting the responsibility of USSR so in that matter the new USSR unstoppably will appear again for natural reasons as needed just in a different form so is Russia's choice & job to find the right way of if!

  18. Advertising for Blackblaze. Yes, why not send some company all of our data and trust that it won't abuse nor share it with anyone else. sarcasm

  19. The Finn’s fighting them pretty much shows me they’d had enough of that. Otherwise they would have embraced the Soviets. I don’t see them asking to join them today. Soviets don’t ask they just take. Even when someone breaks free they say but we owned you for 100 years don’t you want to be part of USSR, no! Oh well we take you back anyway. By force if necessary.

  20. @4:35 Please tell me, when exactly did China have "one of the most powerful navies in the world?"
    @9:00 "…a country with high Russian oil dependency is much less likely to criticise Russia, than a country like the UK." Is that why UK is a vassal state of the US and blindly follows the US into every disastrous war since the end of the Cold War? 
    Why isn't a country allowed to have a different opinion than the opinion of the US?

  21. your talking on old technology. things are changing – the new technology don't need a ;ot of people. with drones this war gonna be different .

  22. For every person going on about how global warming will benefit Russia, you don’t understand global warming. It’s not like things are just going to be a little warmer guys.

  23. We could just move Moscow a bit to the east or change the capital . what is the problem. Why attack neighbour states?

  24. Access to an ocean also greatly affects the social characteristics of a culture.
    In the US we call them land locked hill billies and they voted for Trump. Russia’s entire country is landlocked, thus affecting its social skills. We let them take Berlin which they deserved. They dropped it, pissed off all of their neighbors and still feel they’re owed something for WW2. It’s like they want to be part of Europe but don’t want to at the same time.

  25. when this first came out, i remember most of the comments were memes of stuff that happened in the video or random content.

    now half of the comments are just criticism.

  26. There was NO RUSSIA in the 9th Century!!! It was Kyivan Rus – Often CONFUSED for Russia. YOU ARE SPREADING FALSE – DISINFORMATION!!! RUS is NOT RUSSIA!!!!!!! Moscovy Tsardom is a Mongoloid derivative – of the Eastern Hordes and Betrayers of Kyiv.

    It would be like if Sparta Betrayed Greece, and then became free of the Persians, and called itself the Capital of Greece.

    Peter the First – of Moscovy(Tsardom) – Renamed Moscovy into RUSSIA in the beginning of 18th Century. Russia is an APPROPRIATION OF the HISTORY of KYIV(UKRAINE) – Russia is NOT SLAVIC, Not Christian AND NOT EUROPEAN. The "crown" of Moscovite royalty has Arabic writing on it – NOT SLAVIC. Even the names of Months in the year are NOT SLAVIC!!!

  27. make another video about US/UK problem that make them to invade and destroy countries over the world… don't be shying on giving lot of details..

  28. propaganda channels like this just cant help itself. Crimea was 60% native Russian and an overwelming percetage decided to join Russia trough an international monitored election. No invasion ever took place! The west might disagree with the decision but that was what happened.

  29. As immense Trashia is ,these punks want more of someone elses land ,which they can turn into wasteland!17 mil sq kilometers and they say:not enough!Bashing the USA although they settled down on half that .Russia=territorial thief for all times.

  30. Russia has no geography problem Russia's father Pakistan is there to save Russia . 123 Go . I love you Russia my fatherland . 123 long live Islam long live Russia long live Pakistani armed forces long live Russian armed forces

  31. Why you did not make it right: USA wanted to prevent Russia to has an access to Mediterranean Sea since the Syria war beginning, USA created a coup to remove a military base from Sevastopol, but Russia overtake this situation as a key to return Crimea to Russia after USSR fall.

  32. To much propaganda crap don't you think? What if the USA didn't exist?
    You should tell, that nor the soviets or the Russian have ever cut off the gas, what about the 1991 referenda whereby Crimea voted to stay in the Russian federation or become the Autonomous REpublic which was recognized by Ukraine? Who annexed Crimea truly in 1995
    as i recall, i think you should give a bit more details and background information.

  33. If the majority of Russians population resides in the West, then what's going on towards the east? The east part is also part of Europe correct? How's immigration controlled in such a vast border?

  34. Russia is a loser…they depend too much on their geography…in the past, Genis Khan and Napoleon and Hitler could have enslaved them if they don’t have the severe winter…German technology was too advanced compared to Russia. Even today, without the threat of blowing the planet with their nuclear warhead, the U.S could have destroy them within a day without using a force….Russia in the end, a fucking loser

  35. "Can explain at least a portion of almost every political decision the country has ever made."

    So basically can explain just some of their political decisions. No need to emphasize the "every" decision and "ever" made when you directly negate them a couple words earlier.

  36. 2:40 that’s not a photo of “Ivan the terrible” loll Ivan the terrible was a woman. The last reigning romonav. She reigned for 10 years and was of German descent born in moscow. She placed Germans in Russian politics and brought the first western influenced school of science and technology to Russia. She was named “Ivan the terrible” because she was extreme in her behavior. Sorry but this makes me question the credibility of this video. 🤔

  37. As an American, I think it’s very provocative for the US NATO to be fucking with Ukraine.. let the Russians have a warm water port..why constantly trying to block them at every turn.. they are not communist anymore, the only reason Russia is a thorn in the side of the US is because we are for them the same up trade relations and all will prosper…. but the military industrial complex needs an enemy to justify its existence and huge budget

  38. By 2050 Russia will be the Dominant Power in Europe, Both Militarily & Economically. Russia Just need to stop the corruption in Government & take necessary step to flourish its Economy.

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