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.

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The current figure includes several million immigrants and refugees from newly independent former Soviet republics.

Since 1991, a stark drop in the birthrate has combined with a dramatic rise in the mortality rate.

In the northern areas, winter days are dark and long; in the summer, the days are long and the sun barely sets.

With the exception of the black earth belt, Russia has fairly poor soil, a short growing season, low precipitation, and large arid steppe regions unfit for agriculture except with extensive irrigation.

Circulatory diseases, accidents, and suicides attributable to alcohol abuse are the leading causes of death among men.

Malnutrition, disease, industrial pollution, poor health care, and reliance on abortion for birth control have reduced fertility rates and increased maternal and infant mortality.

These factors limit agricultural production and account for the frequency of crop failures; what is produced requires substantial labor.

The huge forests provide for foraging, hunting, and logging.

These environmental factors have affected the demographic profile and shaped cultural, social, and political institutions, influencing colonizing projects, settlement patterns, household configurations, village politics, agricultural systems, and military technologies.

Bold defiance of these natural limitations include Peter the Great's founding of Saint Petersburg on northern swamplands in 1703, and the twentieth-century plan to reverse the northerly flow of some of Siberia's rivers to facilitate the movement of natural resources.

There is a broad cultural continuity throughout the federation and among the millions of Russians in the newly independent republics of Central Asia, the Baltic region, and the Caucasus. In addition to being the largest, the Russian Federation is one of the world's northernmost countries.