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Many great rivers transect the country, such as the Dvina, Don, Oka, and Volga in the European heartland and the Ob, Yenisei, and Lena in Siberia; most of these rivers are linked by subsidiary waterways.Until the advent of railways and roads, the rivers were the only efficient way to travel, and they remain a significant form of transport for people and materials.Equally important is the ability of rural and urban dwellers to survive challenging conditions of land, climate, and politics.Tens of millions of families depend on food they grow for themselves. In July 1999, the population was estimated at 146,393,000, a decline of more than two million since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.European Russia, the most densely populated, urbanized, and industrialized region, lies between the Ukraine-Belarus border and the Ural Mountains.Seventy-eight percent of the population lives in this area.Some historians believe that "Rus" derives from an ancient name for the Volga River.People ethnically identified as Russians have been politically and culturally dominant in a vast area for five hundred years of tsarist and Soviet imperial expansion.
Some scholars believe this to have been a Varangian (Viking) clan from Scandinavia, and others hold that it was a Slavic tribe.The capital, Moscow, is in the center of this region, where much agriculture has been located despite the thin, poor soil.A line of mixed forest and prairie with more arable soil characterizes the central areas, followed by Russia's "breadbasket," the black earth belt that constitutes less than a tenth of the national territory.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.
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.