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  • 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

  • situationtheir 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 Luxembourgbut 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 Denmarkalso 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 pactif

  • 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

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  • 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.

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Russia's Geography Problem

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/11
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