The russian revolution – civil war 1917

The historian Edward Acton once wrote that “The first step towards an
Understanding of Russian history is the mastery of the map.” This lecture
Offers an introduction to the most important features of the geography of the
Space occupied by Russia and the Russian Empire and discusses how that
Geography had an impact on Russian history, culture, and society prior to the
Revolutions of 1917.
An examination of a map of what was the Russian Empire reveals two
Prominent features: first, the sheer immensity of the land area (leading to a
Great variety of climatic zones and physical landscapes), and, secondly, the
Peculiar distribution of land and water.
With regard to the first of these features, the extent of the space occupied by
Russia was truly staggering. By the end of the nineteenth century its territory
Extended across one-sixth of the land surface of the globe. It covered 8.6 mil-
Lion square miles,

dwarfing Canada (3.8 million), China (3.6 million), and the
United States (3 million); and from west to east – from Poland to the Pacific –
It extended over seven thousand miles (approximately the distance from
London to Los Angeles). This created tremendous difficulties in communica-
Tion: for example, until the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed in the early
Years of the twentieth century, the quickest and by far the most comfortable
Means of travelling from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok was to sail around the
World by boat. However, it also offered the Russians things that no other
European power could enjoy: almost unlimited (if often remote) natural
Resources, holding out the prospect of self-sufficiency, and the opportunity,
During war time, to deploy a strategy of defense in depth, swallowing up an
Enemy army before spitting out its remains (the common fate of Napoleon in
1812 and Hitler during the Second World War).
The area was traditionally divided into European Russia (west of the Urals)
And Asiatic Russia, or Siberia (east of the Urals). However, although this
Makes sense historically, in that Russian civilization and the Russian state
Developed in European Russia from the ninth century onwards and only
Spread across the Urals comparatively recently, in the late sixteenth century, it
Makes little sense geographically. For one thing, the Ural “mountains” might
Not be called such in a region with mightier peaks: they rise, in general, to only
Fifteen hundred to two thousand feet, with a few peaks of five thousand feet,
And are easily traversed via their many passes, or through the flat land to the
South (the so-called “Caspian Gate”), through which the Mongols made their
Way into Europe in the thirteenth century. It is far more useful geographically
To consider Russia in terms of a series of lateral zones, spreading east to
West. This applies in terms of vegetation: the northern tundra, where on the
Permanently frozen soils only lichens and mosses grow and where large-scale human settlement was impossible until well into the twentieth century; the
Central forest zone (from 40 to 45 degrees north latitude), the taiga, the largest
Forest in the world, where, historically, Russians were able to hide from
Invaders (like the Mongols) or from their own lords (in the case of runaway
Serfs), survive on forest fruits, and build their wooden towns and cities; and the
Southern steppe, the immense plain stretching from Hungary in the west to
Mongolia in the east. It applies also in terms of soil types: a northern zone of



The russian revolution – civil war 1917