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The capital, Moscow, is in the center of this region, where much agriculture has been located despite the thin, poor soil.A line of mixed forest and prairie with more arable soil characterizes the central areas, followed by Russia's "breadbasket," the black earth belt that constitutes less than a tenth of the national territory.Some historians believe that "Rus" derives from an ancient name for the Volga River.

Equally important is the ability of rural and urban dwellers to survive challenging conditions of land, climate, and politics.

Tens of millions of families depend on food they grow for themselves. In July 1999, the population was estimated at 146,393,000, a decline of more than two million since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In the northeast, above the Arctic Circle, lies a huge expanse of frigid, occasionally marshy tundra, a nearly unpopulated region where much of the land is permanently frozen and little grows but moss and shrubs.

Below that is the taiga, a vast expanse of coniferous forest, which gradually blends with a band of mixed coniferous and deciduous forest to cover half the country.

Below that, the relatively arid steppe, with grasslands and semidesert and desert regions, runs along the northern edge of the Caucasus Mountains and north of the Caspian Sea beyond the Volga River basin into Central Asia.

The climate of much of European Russia is continental, with long, cold winters and short, hot summers.

All but the youngest citizens share a Soviet cultural experience, since under Communist Party rule the state shaped and controlled daily life and social practice.

Much of that experience is being rejected by Russians and non-Russians who are reclaiming or reinventing their ethnic or traditional pasts; many communities are asserting a specific local identity in terms of language and culture.

Many great rivers transect the country, such as the Dvina, Don, Oka, and Volga in the European heartland and the Ob, Yenisei, and Lena in Siberia; most of these rivers are linked by subsidiary waterways.

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