Before it ceased to exist in 1991, the Soviet Union was the largest country in the world, covering some 8.65 million square miles, almost one-sixth of Earth’s land surface. Its population was estimated at nearly 290 million, and 100 distinct nationalities lived within its borders. (Also, see every Russian and Soviet head of state since Peter the Great.)
The Russian Federation, which succeeded the Soviet Union, covers 6.6 million square miles and is the largest nation by physical size in the world. It has a population of about 141.7 million. The Russian Federation comprises 85 federal constituent units, 21 of which are republics (22 if Crimea is considered).
The 21 republics within the Russian Federation operate under their own constitution and have a right to establish their own language. All of the republics have Russian as at least one of the official languages. The republics also are granted extensive autonomy, though the level of self-rule varies. In addition, the republics have their own elected assemblies.
In terms of landmass, the republics are as small as Ingushetia (1,351 square miles) in the Caucasus region to as large as Sakha (nearly 1.2 million square miles) in the Far East. The smallest republic by population is Altai, in the Siberian sector, with just over 200,000 people, while Bashkortostan, located between the Volga River and the Ural Mountains, is the largest with more than 4 million.
Russia claims Crimea as its 22nd republic, but most of the international community sees it as part of Ukraine. Crimea, with a population of 2.3 million, was annexed by Russia in March 2014 following a takeover by the Russian military. In 1954, the Soviet Union had transferred control of Crimea to Ukraine for reasons unclear to this day. (See how the U.S. is arming Ukraine.)
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