Whenever we’re learning about geography via maps, we’re generally taught to regard Earth’s continents as being particularly important. However, misunderstanding between continental and national boundaries sometimes results in questions such as, “What continent is Russia even in, officially?” It’s not an absurd question, either! Many sometimes assume that continental and national borders correlate with one another, but as we’ll see proven by Russia, this is rarely the case. No matter which continental model you’ve been taught to recognize, figuring out which continent Russia is in can be something of a tricky conundrum.
Until, of course, you’re taught to look at it simply. If this is a question that’s piqued your curiosity, read on for an answer!
Depending on where you’re living, it’s pretty easy to look right past the continents themselves and assume that they have something to do with the countries that reside in them. However, most of the time, economic and political goings-on have absolutely nothing to do with the lines that we’ve drawn between the continental landmasses. Even though a majority of maps used throughout the world generally agree on where these boundaries are, that doesn’t make them significant for most day-to-day trade.
And I’m willing to bet that you’ve found your way to this topic because you’ve never thought about it, until right now. Just what continent is Russia a part of?
Well, if we’re going to answer that, we’re first going to have to expound a little bit on the different continental models used throughout the world. Don’t worry, however; we’re only going to introduce three since they’re the ones that hold the most influence over geographic knowledge taught around the world.
Three Continental Models
Between these three continental models, there’s a good chance that you’re going to recognize one, above the other two. In most English-speaking countries, the seven-continent model is what’s taught as modern geography. This model sees each of the seven familiar continents—Asia, Africa, North America, South America, Europe, Australia, and Antarctica—as separate landmasses.
However, in other regions of the world, two six-continent models are frequently used. There isn’t any sort of real-world ramification for the use of these different models, but it does shape the way that people recognize the borders of each of the continents.
The six-continent combined-Americas model does just what you might assume—it lumps North and South America into a single continental landmass, rather than keeping them as two separate continents. The six-continent combined-Eurasia model does something very similar, in that it combines Europe and Asia into a single continent. Even though the same landmarks that usually separate Europe and Asia remain—the Ural Mountains and Turkish Straits—the two are nevertheless regarded as one.
Combined-Eurasia Continental Model
For our purposes today, we’re going to look most closely at the seven-continent model and the combined-Eurasia models, since they’re the two that are going to shape how we view the country of Russia, and what continent that country is in.
Why, exactly? Because Russia is either in two continents, or one. And that depends on which model you’re using to take stock of our planet’s landmasses!
The Europe and Asia Border
In the seven-continent model, Russia is situated right on the border between Europe and Asia—it effectively has a great deal of land on both sides. This means that, as long as you recognize Europe and Asia separate continents, Russia is actually part of each—it’s in both Asia and Europe, rather than just one or the other.
And unsurprisingly, that doesn’t change if you look at this massive region with the combined-Eurasia model. Because, if Asia and Europe are combined into the single entity of Eurasia, then Russia exists wholly within it (rather than just within Asia, or Europe.)
With us so far? Good! Let’s take a closer look at Russia itself, the spread of its population, and the landmarks that typically separate the Western European region of this country from the Eastern Asian portion.
It’s a little bit ironic; we’re talking about which continent Russia resides in when it happens to be the largest country in the world in terms of its sheer surface area—it doesn’t quite take the cake when it comes to population, but it ranks pretty high in that regard, too. And further complicating our discussion of the topic is the fact that a grossly disproportionate number of its citizens live in the far west of the country, leaving the east—the much, much larger portion of the country that’s in Asia—comparatively uninhabited.
The disparity in surface area is an interesting thing to pay attention to, as well—on two different levels! We’re not just talking about the huge amount of land that Asian Russia occupies, either. As it happens, European Russia actually makes up a significant portion of the European continent.
It speaks to how large the country of Russia is, really. Even though a majority of Russia’s surface area is in the Asian portion of the country, the eastern portion of Russia nevertheless occupies as much as 38% of the European continent’s surface area. That’s rather significant, no? Combine that with the facts about Russia’s population (which we’re going to discuss just below) and you’ll see why it has such a significant presence across two continents (or, is it just one?)
Two Continents, or One?
As we’ve stated above, which continent Russia is in is going to depend on how you view the continental landmasses, as a whole. If you interpret Europe and Asia as separate continents, then Russia is in both. If you follow the combined-Eurasia model, then it’s in one—Eurasia. Also as we’ve stated above, there are practically no ramifications for viewing it through one or the other.
Why? Because the borders, politics, and everything else about Russia is not affected by how the cartographers choose to dictate the borders of the continents.
The dividing line between Europe and Asia hasn’t always been the same, and even after Russia was an established country, it proceeded to change and fluctuate based on who was drawing it. Even today, certain regions dispute where Europe begins and Asia ends (or vice versa.)
Today, most maps recognize the same landmarks as being significant for their dividing Europe and Asia. The Ural Mountains, the Turkish Straits, and the Black Sea all help to form the divide between continents; it’s a stretch of land that isn’t particularly divided in the same way that other continents are from each other.
However, these landmarks—particularly the Ural Mountains—are significant for more reasons than that. In Russia, they’re a separation between the much more populated west and the comparatively unpopulated east. Approximately 75% of Russia’s population resides in the “European” portion west of the Ural Mountains, while the remaining 25% of the population lives to the east, in Asia. That should give you an idea of just how big of a disparity there is between the two.
We can glean even more information by taking a look at some of the major population centers located in the “European” portion of the country. After all, percentages help to demonstrate the huge majority of people living in the west, but actual population numbers will give you a better idea of how significant those percentages are. The following are all close approximations to specific population numbers, taken from recent census data:
- Moscow: 11,500,000 people
- Saint Petersburg: 4,880,000 people
- Yekaterinburg: 1,349,000 people
- Nizhny Novgorod: 1,250,000 people
Even though the portion of Russia that’s in Europe contains far and away a majority of the population, that doesn’t mean that Asian Russia isn’t without its significant population centers. They might not be comparable in size to some of those cities located west of the Urals, but they’re certainly nothing to scoff at.
- Novosibirsk: 1,470,000 people
- Omsk: 1,154,000 people
- Chelyabinsk: 1,130,132 people
- Krasnoyarsk: 973,000 people
- Barnaul: 612,401 people
- Vladivostok: 592,034 people
- Irkutsk: 587,891 people
Similar to when we discussed the city populations in western (“European”) Russia, there are actually far more population centers than we’re actually listing here. Those we’ve provided are simply meant to be a measure of how many people are living east of the Urals, populating cities that are settled onto a much wider expanse of land than exists in western Russia. There’s nothing that matches the huge numbers of people that you’ll find living in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, of course, but it does provide an example of the population disparity.
Far more Russians are living in Europe, than are living in Asia. Of course, this is only a certain fact if you follow the seven-continent model, and don’t view Eurasia as a single landmass.
We hope that this brief examination of the border between European Russia and Asian Russia has been revealing! Though there’s certainly more to learn about the ways that continental disparity has affected the country, much of this can all be attributed to the geological formations that separate eastern and western Russia, rather than any line drawn on a map by cartographers. Regardless of which continental model you choose to follow, Russia itself is unchanging—a single entity, that occasionally occupies two different continents, depending on how you view things.