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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.Limited access to year-round seaports has always been a military and commercial problem.Since 1991, a stark drop in the birthrate has combined with a dramatic rise in the mortality rate.Average life expectancy for both men and women has declined since the 1980s.This population decline is expected to worsen in the next decade.It is largely the result of the economic and social upheavals of the postsocialist period, which have impoverished the population and caused a decay of social services.A lack of natural borders has meant vulnerability to invasion, a danger offset by the size of the country and its harsh, long winters.
In the northern areas, winter days are dark and long; in the summer, the days are long and the sun barely sets.
Some scholars believe this to have been a Varangian (Viking) clan from Scandinavia, and others hold that it was a Slavic tribe.
Some historians believe that "Rus" derives from an ancient name for the Volga River.
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.
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.