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
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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
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Author Since: Mar 11, 2019

  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. And you think your going to take Crimea away from Russia – they will take us out – note we have no allies – we are a joke! Get your pink hair here.

  3. Russia did not take Crimea – Crimea voted (87%) to leave Ukraine –  Ukraine was part of Russia for some 800 years – go away USA – Russia had and will continue to have a lease with Ukraine for Crimea – its  their only warm water port – you think you (USA) is going to take it away – think again – think end game stupid.

  4. "That's why the Russians invaded Crimea". When did THAT happen? Do you have any video or images of this invasion? I remember Russia annexing it upon the popular request of the Crimean people wherein >90% of the population voted to join Russia via referendum. Is THAT what you are talking about? Because that isn't the way we use the word "invasion" in English.

  5. A third world country with a first world military. It's run by a short homophobic thug with a Napoleanic Complex and a wistful vision of the bygone Glory days of Mother Russia under Peter The Great. Sick.

  6. You are mistake, because how you explain the Germany develope, swiss develope and many other countries around the world that they have not developed a great fleet (merchant and army) in their history. Yes. You are right when you say that the world trading and world bussiness exist when you have control the oceans and trading routes but no necesssrily……

  7. Who cares about conventional weapons Einstein?
    Russia had the biggest nuke arsenal ready.
    To quote a famous space marine
    “ game over man!!!!!”

  8. completly by passing the fact that the northern polar routes are opening up year by year further.
    Russian Navy can reach anywere out on the northern hemisphere The Sea of Japan will
    Not be an issue at all. The black sea is not an issue either. Russia and Turkey are warming up to each other.

  9. Russia did not invade Crimea… please don’t just sprout pure propaganda. Ukraine did not see the people of Crimea as citizens, they saw them as Russians and foreigners. They went so far as to not even heat Russian language schools in the winter. Crimea and the people that live there absolutely have the right to leave Ukraine and choose their own path, anyone who is not some kind of dictatorial fascist at heart has to think this of any territory.

  10. This lack of naval access to oceans is exactly why Russia has chosen to concentrate on Intercontinental missiles and stealth Submarines (with ICBM capability) from a military perspective, as opposed to Aircraft carriers and bomber aircraft.

  11. Nothing more than anti-Russian bias.
    Ever heard of WW2? 27 million Russians, Soviets and Jews killed by the Nazi's?
    The fact is, Russia has managed to survive the twisted ambitions of many western leaders.
    Ukraine is not simply friendly with the west. Clearly anti-Russian bias stirred on by the west continues to direct many its decisions in regards to its historic relationship with Russia.
    You would expect Russia not to react to such developments on its border?
    Lets talk about Russians in Mexico, clown.

  12. The Black Sea just leads to another "chokepoint." This analysis is stupid and dishonest. Why should Putin have let the U.S.A. seize Crimea?

  13. The reality is that we should all just party and make love instead of war…The world is run by some of the most disgusting politicians in pretty much every country at the moment. Name me a leader whom you respect and why? Why would anyone want to go and die for their government? The people aren't stupid enough anymore, or to be more precise there is not enough of stupid people to have a full scale war. Peace.

  14. While Finland imports almost all natural gas from Russia, natural gas isn't big in Finland, only 7% of energy use.

  15. i hope usa destroyes russia before russia has prepared for war enought. trump lets putin do anything putin wants. i think trump is putins puppet..

  16. You forget about Murmansk. Murmansk it is another port of Russia and Barents Sea doesn't freeze due to warm current

  17. The ad at the end (BackBlaze): do people really pay a company $5 a month to let the company get access to ALL their data!?!

  18. So Crimea was taken over by Russia? Is this really the opinion of common American people? Is this what CNN told you? Wow. You know the truth is CIA made a regime change and toppled elected leader of Ukraine to ensure world domination by keeping Russia under control. I mean, read your Brzezinski. He told you 15 years ago what the plan is. Over half of Crimea's population are Russians and they just didn't want to be ruled by another oligarch, this time supported by Nazis. Of course Russia supported them in their own interest. But the point is, US evaded another country (again) to keep their power and that is what started this conflict.

  19. WTF IS THIS. biased propaganda LOL

    PS about salary. average salary is 33k rub = 396 k per year. and its AFTER TAXES.
    cause employer pays taxes in russia (except some very few) so actual salary before taxes is 792 k per year. (we have same about 40-50% taxes)
    which is 12 k usd atm.

    and exchange rate was dramatically changed last years, over 2 times
    (thank you dear usa and thank you dear sanctions)
    so it was about 20+ k before 2015

    and our prices are not so dumb HIGH here.
    for example i pay 300 rub = 4,6 usd per month for my internet (500 mb upload and download + 200 tv channels)
    i pay like 4 usd as well for 400 mins and 20 gb for my mobile plan.
    so yeah we are poor comparing to RICH western families, but not THAT poor how you want to show in you biased propagandic videos.

    ive been in eu and usa and saw a lot of ugly places there, especially usa – hoods full of latinos and blacks where even police doesnt want to go .

    so plz stop dramatization and talk shit in every fking video movie or show about russia korea china ussr etc.
    stop serching for new enemies and targets for your bombs

    it not russia has 699 military bases around the globe.
    and not russia has military budget bigger than all other countries together COMBINED.

    yeah yeah we know,
    "no good news about russia (and china)
    everything is grey and ugly there"

    thank you guyz for that

  20. Очень вам хочется наши земли отнять !?
    Нам чужой земли не надо , но и своей не отдадим !!!
    И то что вы называете Сибирь , раньше было Тартарией (Tartarian kingdom)

    Very you want our land take away !?
    We are a foreign land is not necessary , but its not give !!!
    And that's what you call Siberia , before it was Tartary (Tartarian kingdom)

  21. 1:17 you're wrong.
    The U.S. Capitol was burnt down from an army that sailed from Bermuda directly to the eastern coast of the States, and marched right in.

  22. One often overlooked strength Russia has is the fact that the Russian language is spoken in dozens of countries . This magnifies Moscows sphere of influence. Of course this advantage is in danger of being lost as Russian social media trolls slag Islam, the dominant religion of Central Asia.

    Stoking hatred of Muslims is completely stupid. But as seventy years of communism teaches, Russia has a habit of embracing really stupid

  23. Great thanks , now I gotta stop the video 6mins in, and fu**king remind myself what exactly a “NATO COUNTRY” is… I’m from the US my ηίɡɡα, ain’t nobody worried about the world and wtf they doing , but now , bored @4 am when I’m actually interested in the topic, u get all complex and start telling niggas about nato countries now I gotta get into a whole other video about wtf that is …. couldn’t u just have gave a real ηίɡɡα a quick 3second touch up telling niggas what this NATO crap is u speak of ?? U know what man, fuck this I’m going to pornhub

  24. in 2:50 West to the Carpathian Mountains- WRONG .He ( Ivan ) needed at least 700 km of distance of Polish -Lithuanian Commonwealth which were free and prosperous land, and needed that Gargamel not.

  25. Russia was an agricultural feudal country well into the 19th how can you expect it to be on a par with the West
    Secondly the West has done all you can since the revolution in Russia to prevent it developing. There's the small matter of the second world war brought upon it by a Western capitalist country Germany which caused it to lose 20 to 40 million of its population
    Putin invaded Crimea to stop the f******Yanks from setting up a naval and military base there

  26. Any land mass of this size would be vulnerable. In addition, the US staged a coup in Ukraine involving Victoria Nuland, Jan Psaki and others. Crimea refused to surrender to the coup government. Kharkiv would have joined the rejection of the coup, but the proWestern mayor survived a heinous assasination attempt. If Kharkiv had joined, I believe Odessa would have pacted with Crimea. At that point Putin would have had to intervene. On my 2 trips there in '97 &'98 it was clear Odessa is a Russian city, built built by Catherine the Great. Crimea had a large Russian force there already to protect their naval base. The citizens plead for Russian help especially after the Russian language was made illegal by the new illegal govt in Kiev. If Odessa had made the jump along wuth Kharkiv, Putin would have freed them too, though he had a small, effective Army at that time, and no hope to absorb Russia Ukraine economically and make lives better. That change was ruined with Jeffrey Saks sacking the wealth that the Soviets built. Add that to other treachery by the US/NATO- like moving NATO to the borders of Russia. Add those caveats to your interesting vid.

  27. We live in a planet. Countries are human fantasies build over their ego.
    Until we don't live according to physical law, this will never work.

  28. Our Abraham Lincoln was not much different than Vladimir Putin. Lincoln has the USA recorded for ordering the hanging of the most people at the same moment in Time. (I believe it’s 37 Natives).

    As long as nobody messes with Russia, Putin can be nice. But just like Lincoln felt that he had to set a record that will probably never be broken and if you’re a non-death penalty person, you should hate Abraham Lincoln!!! But if you’re going to follow with: “Blah, Blah Blah – Civil war, slavery-Blah, Blah.” , I will say that Russia was in an even worse situation and could have been attacked by outsiders (especially the USA and NATO).
    Putin is a great leader.

  29. by the way you can forsee a khan who rules turkey iran and russsia at the same time, which would be a severe headache for any other power…

  30. I learned a lot about why Russia is the way it is, thank you! On the side-note: the vid completely ignored Peter the Great opening the window to Europe through Estonian port. And the reason Russia still keeps side-eyeing Estonia.

  31. Nice video. However, the author has confused Rus (nowadays Ukraine) and Russia (The Grand Duchy of Moscow – Moscovian tsardom till 1720) that has evidently nothing in common with the first-mentioned.

  32. Climate Change could allow a possible route of russian freights to pass through easily. Whenever iceburg in the North Pole melts down, all Nato-supporting european countries will be frustrated with Russian Naval Power.

  33. jewish USA fear Russia, we only see how Americunts attack third world since it exist, for oil, since 250 years, USA attack China 7 Times when it was very poor, now China is strong and jews in North America can't attack them, just only want to stop their great Chinese economy which fucked up U.S. Economy in 20 years up to 150 % USA loose war in VietNam, Vietnamese fucked almost 2 millions small weak americunts. Kuba win 2 wars against USA from 1800 – 1820  when Kuba was Collonial of Spain. China Win 4 wars against jewish USA, from 1850 – 1949. and yeah fucking, ist only These fucking USA which attack countries nobody attack USA, we hope China or Russia can stop jewish USA Aggression. USA 243 years old (since Independence) and went 219 times to war, and houndreds other spec. ops

  34. Not sure about this one. These facts are incomplete or inaccurate. 13 million troops is an exaggeration of human resourcing. More like 1 million bureacrats to process data on human geography.

  35. Russia has always been a subject of attack, even up to this date everyone is blaming Russia for everything. West is happy only when Russia is weak.

    After collapse of USSR, American Rule of Law implementers USAID "helped" draft the Russian constitution in such a way it would not benefit Russia itself. In other words, Russia became occupied by the western elite and oligarchs of Jewish ethnicity. Yeltsin was just too weak to run the country, therefore Russia was slowly headed towards its collapse. However, Yeltsin began to realize what's taking place, so he already endorsed Putin to become president, because he saw that Putin is almost certainly the only man who could save Russia. Right away, Putin made major political and economical changes that helped Russia to survive and raised the standard of living – that's why Russians love Putin so much. Still, the constitution has certain restrictions that will not allow for people to have better living standards. The problem is that President has no power to change the constitution, Russia needs a peaceful general voting by the electorate on this part. Thankfully we are slowly headed towards our liberation and freedom, as more and more people are awakening to the events that are taking place. Western "democratic" capitalistic slavery regime will deteriorate and will be replaced by the new system, where each man and woman will have their sovereign freedom.

    "Everything will melt away like ice, yet the glory of Vladimir, the glory of Russia, are the only things that will remain.
    Russia will not only survive, it will dominate the world." – Vanga, 1979

    "In Russia there comes the hope of the world, not as that which is sometimes termed as Communism or Bolshevism; no. But freedom, freedom! Each man will live for his fellow man! The principle has been born. It will take years for it to be crystallized, but out of Russia again, comes the hope of the world." – Edgar Cayce

  36. if someone attacks a country entering nato, first of all nato will start consultations. and then, in 2-3 months they starting to do something. they will waste a lot of time with logistics.

  37. Russia in 882 AD? Are you joking? In 882 AD it was Kyivan Rus. Russia begins just in in the 18th century. By that time since 12th century it was Duchy of Moscow. Is Russia successor of Kyivan Rus? It's the same as if Romania was successor of Roman Empire.

  38. I dunno about the logic, what about the Australian aboriginals? they had all the geological advantages of America and didnt make it too far on a global scale

  39. You must mention here the damage made by communists abolishing private property and killing wealthy people. Many Russians nowadays hate capitalism, democracy and would return their country to a communist rule. So this is political choice of how to build country's economy. And IMHO Russia was a one huge prison for hundreds of years, it's Russia's tradition.

  40. The US could cause a drop in the gas/ oil price which would screw Russia with its desperate need to keep earning from oil/ Gas production. Make it clear that if Putin were overthrown we'd all be friends again and the price would rise & sanctions lifted.


  42. What you said about why Putin attacked Crimea is pure speculation!
    Real fact instead is that there was a referendum and 95 % of Crimeans voted for stay with Russia. I didn't hear this fact in your video…

  43. That is wrong, 6:20 "if one country is attacked all respond". Japan have no obligation to defend USA if if USA would be attacked. But USA is obligated to defend Japan if it gets attacked.

  44. Lol, what's in common sharing Kievian Rus' with Russia? Follow old imperialistic myths in 2019 > being liberal media

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