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,
so I was going to do this big complicated pitch where I figure out the value
of computer data in order to calculate the return on investment for signing up to Backblaze,
but then it was pointed out to me that, you already know you should back up your data. It’s like brushing your teeth, doing the
dishes, taking out the trash—its something that you know you should do but don’t want
to because its easy to ignore it. The only thing is, backing up your data doesn’t
have to be difficult or expensive. With backblaze, you just download their application
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to do is sign into your account at
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free for 15 days by using the link wendover. If you lose your data during those 15 days,
you’ll still get it back at no cost. After
that its only $5 per month for the peace of mind of knowing that, no matter what, your
data is safe. By signing up at this link, you’ll also
be helping me out so I can make more great Wendover Productions videos. Once again, sign up over at
to get a 15 day free trial—thats 15 free days of
knowing your data is safe. I want to remind you to check out the video
that Alternate History Hub made about what the world would be like if Russia didn’t
exist. It’s a great video, and then he
collaborated with Real Life Lore to make another great video about what would happen if
the Soviet Union Reunited. Other than that, you can support Wendover
Productions at wendoverproductions, follow me on Twitter
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Comments 100

  • 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.


  • "Mediterranean Ocean". That´s where I jumped ship.

  • чет пиздец кривые карты)))

  • Weak podcast. So many misleading explanations in the best traditions of brainwashed American media.
    Some examples:
    1. Nato blocks sea trade impacting economic of Russia – any Russian company can easily use Bosphor or Baltic Sea, in worst case you use Nuclear ice breaker. Russia never focused on building naval colonies, since 15th age Russia has been focusing on consolidation of land where Russians live.
    2. NATO and US never truly participated in global wars on the scale similar to Russia – it would be very difficult to imagine that Eastern European countries and Turkey will be supporting the US in real war in Russia, in which application of nuclear will be a question of minutes. You just do not understand that after mongol, french and nazi invasion Russia can sacrifice the whole Western civilization but not surrender.
    3. The actual reason of bad economic development of Russia is its weak economic strategies and lack of private ownership protection. The entire history Russia did one thing conquered another peace of land, get natural resources and sell to Europe, buy technological things (especially weapon) and tried to replicate. The major problem of Russia is that modern economic approach make this logic economically nonviable. Example of Crimea Annexation proved to be extremely costly.

  • 6:20 slight correction: if one nato country is attacked, its considered an act of war towards all nato countries. But that doesnt mean all have to respond. Its perfectly possible (legally) that they all say "well that was mean, but carry on".

  • Lol butthurt Russians calling things like "the invasion fo Crimea" propaganda…
    Ironically they are all incredibly suspicious and cynical about the motivations of other countries in the world, yet at the same time they swallow the official statements of Russia and act like Putin would neeeeeever invade a country to protect the interests of Russia….

  • Crimeans organized a referendum in response to the illegal western backed coup d'etat of the democratically elected government of Ukraine. The overwhelmingly ethnic Russian population of Crimea overwhelmingly elected to REUNIFY with Russia. The word annexation was inaccurately used in this video; if we use this word according to its literal meaning. The referendum was orderly and public participation was in the high 80 percentile.

  • I learned that Khaaaan! Was a real person.

  • Russia is a problem by itself.

  • Cool and interesting, but I'll probably forget about the 70% of what you said after 5 minutes.

  • Russia: Needs 13million trained troops to fully invade
    Pewdiepie: Allow me to introduce myself

  • Every country who would have this territory will have the same problems!

  • What ever INDIA🇮🇳 is right behind RUSSIA 🇷🇺 LOVE FROM INDIA💖

  • 7:45–8:30
    I don't get it. How will the take over of Sevastopol make any difference to Russia when Turkey anyway controls the Bosporus strait?

  • Anyone here play Empire: Total War?

  • Russia had become an unconquerable country
    Hitler : am I a joke to you ?

  • Seems like the problem isn't purely geographical, but rather how it is impossible for a centralized top-down power structure to effectively and efficiently manage a massive and economically diverse geographical area.

    Very much like the US in that regard, except we somewhat allow for more localized control in states/counties.

    It's why I hate when people point to small culturally homogenous countries (Switzerland, Finland, etc) as examples of how the US federal govt should be managing America.

    When you have an area this big and a large population filled with such a rich diversity of cultures, climate, economic factors, etc… It just doesn't make sense from an effectiveness standpoint to put so much everyday regulatory power in one singular location.

  • That's wrong Wendover 1:10. Canada did not only win the war of 1812 but then marched all the way down to the gulf of Mexico after the American failed invasion. The White House was also set on fire and I hear some evidence of that fire damage still exists. That was a long time ago though 🙂

  • To call the UK a „powerfull“ country is like calling a Chihuahua a dangerous dog

  • 6:06 really, sea of Japan is controlled by Korea and Japan. It was known as the East Sea for centuries.

  • Imagine if Russia owns Alaska 🤔🤔

  • AmeriKKKa's Racism Problem.

  • Ban greedy humans.

  • It’s pronounced Gre- nay- a 😅
    (I know this vid is 2 years old but incase someone say it like that in the video to people who’ve been there, might get some strange faces)

  • Russia Russia Russia, they haven't done a thing to me it's old Uncle Sam who sold his people down the river

  • "Russias invasion of Crimea"
    Sir I call you a dumbass, 0 people died there, because it was a fucking annexation with a vote held.

  • This rap about seaports didn't make any sense… you didn't mention about Murmansk

  • Thank you, foreigner, for explaining to me why I'm so poor “After WWII Germany was administered by the three victorious powers and France.” …… Dude, I loved that line. 😂😂 Don't worry Russia global warming will make all your ports warm watered USAs Geography problem: Who to attack next? “There is no conceivable way to take over and conquer Russia.”

    France Left the Chat

    Germany Left the Chat
    Here I can summarize this entire video:

    Its too big
    that is 6 comments using Grammarly

    Credits: @UCcEMqGq5El9NMrQEKZZhtqw,  @UCPHTmuD3F8n8A6VjVoV8HNw,  @UCFudSIblKNzaH96fJvSLH_g,  @UCBGSB_vZFUqYZwE_jAhZp6A,  @UC2LlAbeDnfflOSqDUX1ZZ-Q,  @UC5THfx2bkf6UyWgOvu2QNcA

  • 3:12 Why is Finland included in the territory of Russia?

  • It would be really interesting if you could do a video about East Mediterranean in relation with the EEZ and the elations between the major players of the region. Israel, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and the collisions that are on the make involving USA, France, Cyprus, Libya and how UK and Russia also have major interests on the region.

  • Now is one of 10 biggest GDP economies

  • That guy who did the sub in Russia explanation sounded like a guy who sat in his room for thousands of hour watching that John Green / SciShow dude and tried to not only emulate, but become him.

  • No the Denmark straits is an international waterway so Russia can go through

  • The rightmost soldier @8:03 looks like Putin.

  • "Because… In the end, reality can be whatever I want."

  • Crimea is Ukraine.

  • You forgot about the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and former Yugoslavia states. They were also part of the Soviet Union till 1989 and now most of them are in the EU and NATO. Maybe it isn´t the most important information for you, but it can be for someone else.

  • Store your data online in an age of hacking and insecure systems? Sounds sketchy as f. Why would you put your data online when you can just get a backup drive and store it locally, offline and therefore secure?

  • Russia is in a bad position if they want to ship products outside of Europe due to the distance they have to ship it and the lack of access to many areas of the oceans. They probably would like to invade many now independent nations which was once a part of their empire just to gain access to the oceans which they depend on.

  • 882? Russia didn't exist yet. Ukraine i.e. Rus was set up first.

  • I love you Wendover!

  • This has to be one of your most ignorant videos yet, Russians aren't poor because of geography, Russians are poor because they choose to allow a communist dictatorship to oppress them for generation after generation. It's really that simple!

  • What a waste of time, dude why would anyone would want to Conquer Russia, it's impossible, remember what happened to the Nazis … Russia has no Geographical Problem, remember Rassians are tough people, and thanks to them, we have a free world and Not a Nazi World God bless Mother Russia and all my Russioskies, across the planet.. Ruaaaaaaah … 🙂

  • Make the video of India in these sense..✌️

  • And they have to get through the Sea of Japan, which is controlled by Japan, like really I definitely did not know Japan controlled the sea of JAPAN

  • Thanks for the video. I make videos to help people memorize Geography.

  • When you said mediterranian ocean i was sorry i even clicked on this video

  • Is it just me or when he said the Sea of Japan controlled by japan 6:02 the way he said was just hilarious

  • 4:02 Well, Even Russia Can't Conquer Russia

  • What the hecc RUssia=!?

  • Every country have Geography Problem except Vatican

  • Oh man this DID NOT age well.

  • Mediterranean ocean?

  • I hear Russia and go, Ice ice baby🎶

  • its like if Texas sucked.

  • Russia is running under the dictatorship of Putin.

    There are Venezuela Cuba in America, China in Asia and Russia in Europe.

    There are always a bad apple in the box.

    Its gonna be really complicated to understand why it is now. But every continent has its bad and good giants to make the world evolve and eventually doom.

  • Yeah but couldn’t they just walk through siberia, but not through the entire siberia lol

  • So that's why trump is so hard on Germany! On the orders of his pimp VLAD! To be tougher on Germany knowing that their heavily dependent on Russia for oil! And we can provide Germany with all the oil they need!
    Simple solution to that!
    Solar energy!
    70% of the homes in Germany is powered by it! So why not everything! Russia will always be the slum of the world!

  • is that the japan sea or the south china sea?

  • Хуйня это всё, взятка – всему голова



  • I heard that if you took the moon and balled it up…its the size of Russia. Its amazing how the moon is a biggie small. Since Russia is emence in size. But the whole world can see it. And it looks small compared to earths skys.

  • Mediterranean is proud for having been magnified and promoted to ocean…but not, he´s just a simple sea

  • 9:50 nah, I don't believe it.

  • Guys…. so what if everyone country got locked up…. no access to the out side… no country needs anyone everyone can grow food and move on… when Hiroshima got contaminated that land got fucked by man…. for the survivors the had to move out but still the same country… have you seen Cuba when it got locked off…. the made their own gadgets… and looked healthy

    No body wants a fucking gadget from the out side WE ARE FINE THANKS

    No one wants your unhealthy supermarket THANKS BUT really…

    No Thanks ☺

  • "Reality is a confluence of chance and circumstance"
    existential crisis intensifies

  • Major inaccuracies in this article. Too many to list. I take extreme exception to the Crimea invasion. These people are Russians, and they voted to rejoin Russia by an overwhelming 90+ %. Just because the US says they can't, does it make invasion stories true?

  • There’s no money here, I’m off to the U.S.A. 🇺🇸 🦅. Specially California.

  • "No single country could take over and occupy all of Russia."
    Laughs in HOI4 and Rise of Nations

  • I mean, Russia has Crimea- but thats the only thing they have for warm water ports.

  • This feels bias

  • this is territory of Kievan Rus' .
    Russia starts from Moscow Grand Duchy

  • I think it’s more than the 13 biggest economies. I believe Switzerland is 39, and that was the biggest I could find.

  • For the first time I heard that the Crimea conflit involved a strategic port. 😮

  • You're a filthy liar Russia didn't invade Crimea they voted because they're all russian-speaking you filthy bastard from hell

  • NATO is an anachronistic entity that is a financial burden to each and every country in it .. it will be gone in a few decades as technology progresses.. an utterly useless tool in today's world .. speeding up its inevitable and justifiable demise is not a bad thing

  • dont forget the aids issue also

  • Cool video! Taught this old man alot! Thank you.

  • There no such thing as russia, this country is a son of ukraine, from the beginning, and it eventually it will return as a son at the and, to Ukraine

  • No wonder why all these climate alarmists shriek about the north pole melting. If the north pole melted and turned into a warm body of water. Russia would have the most access to a warm body of water.

  • No Gas – no money! This is not gas dependency!

  • As russian I think that the big problem in my country its our corrupt authorities.

  • No not even close on the size of the army needed to conquer Russia. You would only need an army bigger then the one they have. Which is half the size of the United States alone.

  • Pretending to be knowledgable and umm impartial, and still to not use PPP in estimating the GDP ha ha. Second, navy power equal power was true only for 3 centuries from 17 centuries till now, and its over already. Explaining Crimean joining Russian Federation with some Putin{ the monster in the comics influenced american minds} calculation only and ignoring just about everything else could work on super shallow uneducated western minds, and thats all. And was that great idea about your next video, if Russia didnt exist? Ha ha ha, the wet dreams of your kind, how about if the freakish experiment{ ongoing} of country
    US do not exist? Or more "normal" countries like any other on the globe, but it has to be Russia, the poor, with so many problems,
    country who somehow manage{ the wonders!} to become the largest country in the world. The misses,manipulation and outright lies in this video are astonishing.

  • American gas allows to protect Europe from Russian influence even it's just "a little bit" more expensive…what a story Mark…

  • Despite those weakness of Russia don't forget your president Vladimir Putin..I don't admire him but he's really smart he knows the weak parts of enormous country in order to make that advance technology in military industry…at least he's also a good strategist of war..he knows the NATO has several military bases around the world and surrounded Russia…but the most important thing is not so much the the strategy to win the war

  • Russia is mostly Siberian land which is practically useless

  • ukraine hates russia and so does bealus

    like Ukraine loves the usa they become our bitch in 10 tens

  • I hate to be this guy… but the Mongols conquered Russia.

  • Post-oil Russia will become a failed State. The other worry Russians have is the development of hydrogen power. With oil and natural gas inching into obsolescence Russia is on trajectory to a massive failure. Asia and Australia are now building out their hydrogen economies and all other nations are preparing to follow. Hydrogen is the most abundant source of energy in the entire universe. Lastly, Russia's lack of innovation…generations have suffered under communism which suppressed individualism and creativity. Russians and anyone living under communism have atrophied the creativity needed to boost the economy. Think about it……the best music and best movies – where do they originate from? Go look at the list of inventions. Notice a pattern? In a post-oil world Russia can only fail ad their bread and butter industry withers and dies. Putin has already cut pensions…this despite the low life expectancy of an average Russian. I think Russia will collapse again within 20 years.

  • The only one way for us (Russians) is too integrate into eu and become American ally for economy development sake, as well as build a democracy institution instead of fake that we have now. The problem is that our government morphing into Chinese regulation system, broking all humans-free-rights that why these actions summons the protest in Moscow.

  • in modern warfare you could beat the geography – by simply systematically carpetbombing every single last bit of industry and mining. even then the sheer scale likely would make it a very hard prospect.

  • 4:38 Calling UK but Germany has stronger Economy then UK with no really big navy historically

  • liar, russia didn't invade crimeia

  • That port in Novossiyk may be controlled by a Russian ally if turkeys President continues his pro Russian trends

  • Why did Russia feel like it needed Siberia lol

  • BS video in many respects.

  • Mediterranean Ocean??

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