Population: 143, 420, 000
Languages: Russian, plus a multitude of ethnic dialects
Race: Mostly Russian with the odd Ukranian and Tartar.
Religion: Russian Orthodox, some Muslims. Thing is, religion was forbidden under communism and didn’t survive as well here as in say, Poland. Money is as sacred as anything now.
Government: Currently under the ruthless despot, Putin, who has centralised power to some degree.
CIA Russia Information Visas and Paperwork
Firstly, the visa situation – it’s a bit of a nightmare. There are really three ways to get one.
a) Tour company.
Get a tour operator specializing in Russia and go on a tour. Hardly the stuff of Roadjunky readers, of course, but it does save you a heap of hassle and is a good way to see the main sights without the crap entailed in doing paperwork yourself.
b) Get an invite.
For this, you need a friendly Russian. If you don’t have one, perhaps you could find one online at Roadjunky friends? They go to their local internal affairs ministry office, with your passport details, and get an invitation document. This, they send to you. You take it to the Russian consulate near you, get a visa, and go. Bear in mind, they will have to register you as staying with them when you arrive, and you won’t (technically) be free to travel to other places within Russia.
c) Get a tour company to do you an invitation, perhaps even a business visa.
Sounds crazy, but it can be worth it, particularly if you want to leave Russia, visit another adjoining state, and then come back.
The whole visa situation is a can of worms, and a disgraceful mess, and you should check the latest – the rules (at least for some European states and Japan) seem to be relaxing a little, but not for Americans. It all depends on how your country treats visiting Russians, and some are not very kind to them. Last minute changes, or sudden differing interpretations of the rules or enforcement of them are common.
However you get there, don’t overstay, whatever you do, and don’t otherwise “come up against the system.” It might not be the Soviet Union any more, but attitudes amongst border guard officials and the like remain firmly entrenched in 1962.
Travel to and from Russia
Most people, inevitably, fly into Moscow and St Petersburg, although there are loads of other options. Flights don’t tend to be that cheap, and there are certainly no budget airlines flying there yet (but they’ve just started flying to Estonia and Latvia, next door, from Europe).
Overland options are almost too numerous to list, favourites being Finland and the Baltics, the Trans-Siberian from China, the former Soviet Central Asian states and the Caucasus. Some of the latter are not entirely recommended for foreigners – the north Caucasus and Tajikistan for example, being danger zones. Ferries are also an option in the Black Sea and Baltic, or from Japan.
Driving into Russia can be done, but again, the paperwork and need to deal with uniformed horrors might make it not worthwhile. Cyclists have an easier time.