How Geography Shaped the USA and Russia

There are 195 countries in this world, and most of them are unique in several ways. They possess their own history, culture, and citizens that separate them from the rest of the world in one way or another. An important factor as to how and why nations have developed the way they have is their geography. Geography is the very foundation of any nation, influencing their growth, security and wealth in a significant way. Geographical features dictate the national and international policy of every country, which is why we want to take a look at several nations, this time the US and Russia, to analyze how geography shapes and influences their every decision.

Looking at the most recent world history, there are two major players in the world, opposing each other both in ideology and principle. The US and Russia are superpowers at odds, with open confrontations, threats, and ridicule throughout the past century. We have already taken a look at China and how their geographical features influence their development and decisions. Now it’s time to look at the opposing superpowers that vary drastically in many geographical features and, therefore, their military priorities.

US: America the Fortress

The US has been the defining superpower in the world for a while now. They are calling the shots in the western world, having their fingers in almost everything while remaining relatively untouched. The definitive reason why the US has fared so well since its inception is its pristine location and resources. Extensive oceans to either side, two (militarily weak) allies above and underneath – there is nothing that could directly harm the US. Sure there is the increasing threat of intercontinental missiles – but in terms of landmass, there is nothing to harm them at all. Favorable waterways (the Mississippi River and New Orleans, as well as the oceans), coupled with fertile land here and there made sure the US would prosper without any disruption.

Looking to the nations north and south reveals that it could’ve gone way worse. Canada has no substantial horizontal rivers to transport goods (or an army if it should ever come to that), not as much fertile land and only one major highway connecting west and east. They are constantly one severed road away from being split into two. At the same time, Mexico is pretty much a desert – so the US owns the best chunk of the continent in terms of fertility and access to resources, something that helped the nation to develop its dominance and becoming almost untouchable.

Russia: A Huge Slab of Landmass

When thinking of Russia, the first that comes to mind is its sheer size. Spanning across major parts of Europe and Asia, the nation of Vladimir Putin is difficult to control and is vulnerable in many ways. Difficult to control also means it’s not possible to occupy just due to its massive size. However, no matter the size, most of its inhabitants live in the west, in Europe surrounding Moscow. That automatically means that most decisions within the country are done in favor of the western part of the country.

Within the European continent, there is another opponent for Russia, which is the European Union that doesn’t align with Russia’s goals and intentions and can be considered an American ally. While Russia is a huge nation, it is surrounded by mostly natural borders that keep it relatively safe. Unfortunately, the only penetrable weak point for the nation lies right in Europe and has seen frequent use during the world wars. The East European plain enabled troops in the past to quickly advance towards Moscow to attack Russia and remains Russia’s geographical Achilles’ heel. Russia has counteracted by keeping close connections with the nations that are making up the plain in the past, such as Belarus and Ukraine, creating a partially controlled buffer zone that would make it easier to defend against an army marching towards Moscow.

Russia, Ukraine, and Crimea

Ukraine is probably one of the most important countries for Russia, as it makes up most of the East European Plain. Losing the nation to the EU would mean a serious weak-point in their defenses against outside forces. Another reason why Russia depends on Ukraine is their port in Sevastopol, which the Russians leased.

Russia, despite its size, lacks one of the most important resources a nation needs – water access. Russia has very few reliable access points to open waterways, mostly due to the cold climate, making Sevastopol a major staple in their expanded naval capabilities.

After Ukraine started to “flirt” with the idea of the European Union – meaning Russia to potentially lose a vital port and defense mechanism – Russia occupied and annexed Crimea. Take that as you may.

Geography and Resources: It’s in the Oil and Gas

Europe is actually the place where US and Russian ideology come the closest to clashing. However, Russia still holds major influences in the region due to its vast resources of natural gas and oil. Several countries depend on the Russian supply of natural gas, even though the US tries to relive that dependency by their own shipments of gas into the region. That explains why some nations are more diplomatic in their relations to Russia than others – it all depends on their direct dependency on the Russian energy monopoly.

In terms of geography, the US has been blessed in almost all conceivable ways. Its perceived opponent Russia, however, has several fires to control within the European continent alone, all stemming from geographical limitations. However, the abundance of natural resources does ease their endeavors to remain a superpower, balancing out the US regardless of geography.

About Andreas Salmen

Born and raised in Germany, learned a job in IT and Business and ultimately decided that this wasn't exactly where my life was going to end. Left everything behind to become a writing backpacker instead. The world's crumbling away anyway so why not write about it and get a few good Instagram pics on the way, am I right?

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