Russia is huge, and that’s about the size of it.

In a recent blog, I wrote about the world?s largest country in terms of population, China, focusing on how diverse its regions are, and how its massive population throws out some pretty incredible statistics. In this blog, I?m turning to one of China?s neighbours, and the world?s largest country in terms of area, Russia.

Russia takes up 17,098,250 square kilometres, roughly one-eighth of the world?s total land mass. That?s larger than the entire continent of Antarctica, nearly twice the size of the world?s second biggest country, Canada, and almost as large as the whole of South America. In fact, Russia is larger than the world?s 164 smallest countries combined, and is supposedly only just smaller than the entire surface area of Pluto.

Russia is made up of 85 federal subjects, or regions, the largest of which is the Sakha Republic. The Sakha region is the largest sub-national area in the world, with a total area of 3,083,523 square kilometres, roughly one-sixth of Russia?s total size. As Fig. 1 shows, that?s a pretty large area on the world map. It?s also a massive difference compared to Russia?s smallest federal subject, the city of Sevastopol, which is 3,569 times smaller at just 864 square kilometres.

Image for postFig. 1 ? The dark green area is the Sakha Republic. Countries larger than Sakha (Canada, USA, China, Brazil, Australia, India) are highlighted in red.

If Sakha was an independent country it would be the eighth largest in the world, just smaller than India, and just larger than Argentina. Sakha is 10 times larger than Italy, and 31 times larger than South Korea. Despite its size, Sakha has a relatively small population, of around 1 million, which would make it the least densely populated country on earth. In fact, even if you moved Russia?s entire population of 144 million people into the Sakha region, it would still be one of the least densely populated countries in the world, with a population density similar to Tanzania or Afghanistan.

Using an equal-area projection allows to more accurately compare the size of Sakha to other countries. In Fig. 2, Sakha is compared to the seventh and eighth largest countries in the world: India and Argentina.

Image for postFig. 2 -Comparing Sakha to countries of a similar area

Another interesting feature of Russia?s size is the fact that it covers 11 time zones, 10 of which cover one continuous area, with the 11th belonging to the Kaliningrad enclave. Incredibly, Russia shares time zones with both Libya and Fiji. But this actually makes Russia seem bigger than it is.

The distance from the most western point of Kaliningrad to the most eastern point of Russia (which is so far east, it?s actually west) is around 6,600km. What?s interesting here is that this looks like a huge distance on a regular map, where Russia takes up roughly half of the horizontal distance. Yet the earth?s circumference at the equator is about 40,000km, more than six times further than the east-west reach of Russia. 6,600 kilometres also roughly the distance between Liberia and Somalia, on opposite coasts of Africa.

It?s hard to believe that the two red lines represent the same distance. (I could get into a discussion on different map projections, but maybe in another blog. This is quite a basic, and funny, introduction though).

Image for postFig. 3 ? Comparison of the two distances

However, when using an equal-area projection, as below, we can get a much better idea of the size of Russia, and its constituent regions, compared to the other countries of the world.

Image for postFig. 4 ? The same map as Fig.1 but using an equal-area projection

So while I?m sure that everyone reading this already knew Russia was the biggest country in the world, I think it?s interesting to see that some of its own regions would be considered big countries in their own right. Three of Russia?s regions have an area greater than 1 million square kilometres, with each being larger than the world?s 20th biggest country, Peru.

And just to finish, here?s my favourite statistic about the world?s smallest administrative area: The Vatican City has 2.27 popes per square kilometre.

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