According to iamhigher, 73% (2008) of the population lives in cities; the rest in rural villages, which are experiencing a progressive abandonment: it is estimated that over a tenth of the 160,000 villages surveyed in Russia are now completely uninhabited, while an even greater share is inhabited almost exclusively by elderly people. The phenomenon mainly affects villages built in remote and isolated areas, not reachable by the network of modern services (electricity, gas, telephone, etc.). In “lively” rural areas, there are generally smaller but more numerous and vital settlements in the areas of intensive agriculture, larger but spaced out in the areas of extensive agriculture; the variety of settlements is also greatly influenced by ethnic and historical factors. The abandonment also affects numerous small towns of the vast N, on both the European and Asian sides, built alongside industrial and mining companies that were subsequently closed for economic reasons. As far as the hierarchical organization of the centers is concerned, there is no wide range of settlements as in Western Europe, where the various centers have been hierarchized in relation to the multiple roles and connections they have towards the countryside: often between the village and the capital of a large region (oblast) centers of intermediate size are missing. Many large and important centers developed only between the two world wars or even after World War II with the industrial development of new regions (this is the case of the large cities of the Ural region and of the Siberian cities in the Kuzbass basin, born in the first half of the twentieth century and which recorded a percentage growth higher than the western cities); others, especially to the west of the Urals, along the Volga and along the ancient trade routes that link Russia to the Caucasus, are instead ancient centers of commercial origin or with administrative functions, which have become headquarters of industries. The birth and development of cities were not, especially in the Soviet period, spontaneous elements but planned according to the territorial functions and the economic needs of the different regions.
In general, however, it can be said that the Russian territorial organization still has its key points in the centers of ancient foundation (cities with strategic and military functions in the past, commercial cities, communication nodes, etc.), to which the poles of more recent industrial areas. If we exclude the centers of historic cities, Russia’s urban landscape is extremely uniform, dominated by large administrative and residential buildings (even villages are often made up not of single-family houses but of prefabricated blocks of 5-6 floors) inserted in a loose-knit road fabric with an abundance of greenery. Only in the last years of the century. XX this panorama began to change, in part, with the appearance of showy commercial buildings and new housing types (large single-family villas outside the cities) destined for the more affluent classes. The largest city, capital of the federation is Moscow, one of the largest metropolises in the world, constantly growing due to the influx of immigrants from other Russian regions and equipped with a powerful administrative, industrial and commercial system that makes it almost a state in itself.. Moscow is the main hub of air, road and rail communications as well as an important river port: the river that crosses it, the Moscova, is channeled and well integrated into the great waterway system known as the “five seas” (Baltic, White, Azov, Black and Caspian). The second city is St. Petersburg, the former capital commissioned by Peter the Great as a “window on Europe”, which grew with this function in the centuries of maximum splendor of Tsarist Russia, and still enriched by a grandiose architecture; as well as a very active port, the main one in the country, it has important and multiple industrial functions (chemical, mechanical, food, etc.). The Volga, with its functions as the great natural artery of European Russia, hosts on its banks several industrial metropolises of the first magnitude, such as the historic Nižni Novgorod, formerly Gorki, at the confluence of the Oka in the Volga, andKazan, capital of the Autonomous Republic of the Tatars, Samara, formerly Kujbyšev, whose multiple industries are favored by a gigantic hydroelectric plant; nearby Togliatti, the heart of the Russian automobile industry; and again Volgograd, formerly Stalingrad, entirely rebuilt after the bloodiest battle of the last world war, also revitalized by a huge hydroelectric power station and the opening of the Volga-Don canal.
All these cities, including Perm, in the upper Kama basin, in a coal and iron mining area, together delineate a highly urbanized and industrialized belt, rich in energy sources (hydroelectric energy and oil), which runs from N to S along the slope western Urals. Also on the eastern side of the chain there are “clusters” of important industrial cities such as Ufa, capital of the autonomous Republic of the Bashkirs ; Jekaterinburg, formerly Sverdlovsk, the highest railway junction in the Urals and home to grandiose industrial complexes; Chelyabinsk, near which some of the major centers of the nuclear industry are located. Towards the E the big cities are staggered along the Trans-Siberian : like this Omsk and Novosibirsk, on which the latter gravitates the great mining and industrial basin of Kuzbass. Further on, still on the axis of the Trans-Siberian, there is Krasnoyarsk, at the center of an immense region of forests and mines; Irkutsk, the highest center of the Baikal region; Ulan-Ude, where the Trans-Mongolian railway is grafted; Khabarovsk, which has become the main hub of Russian-Chinese trade; and finally Vladivostok, terminus of the railroad and active port on the Pacific. In the Siberian region, however, the real pioneer centers are the new cities located on the great rivers, bridgeheads of vast areas rich in minerals whose development is still in its infancy; one of the largest is Yakutsk, on the Lena. Another series of large urban centers can be found in the European part, to the S of Moscow, in the fertile belt that reaches the Black Sea: the most important are Rostov which is burdened by the coal region of Donbass; Voronez, Saratov and Krasnodar, centers with long traditions of trade and distribution to the rest of the country of the agri-food products of their regions.