An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. Covering lands annexed from Sweden in the 18th century, Kareliya was created as an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) in 1923. In 1940, the region was enlarged with territory from Finland and renamed as the Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR) as part of a larger effort to reincorporate all territories lost to Russia after World War I (1914–1918).
   Kareliya holds the distinction of the only union republic to be downgraded to an ASSR within Russia (Abkhazia was demoted to an ASSR of Georgia in 1931), which occurred in 1956. Kareliya is part of the Northwestern Federal District and the Northern Economic Region. It is bordered by the Murmansk, Archangel, Vologda, and Leningrad oblasts, as well as sharing a 723-kilometerlong international border with Finland.
   It is washed by the White Sea, and sits on Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. Kareliya covers 172,400 square kilometers. Half of the territory is forested taiga, and the northwestern areas are generally marshy. It is considered one of the most pristine areas of the Russian Federation and has attracted an increasing number of eco-tourists from Europe. The regional capital is Petrozavodsk (pop. 266,000). Kareliya’s economy is dependent on forestry (particularly pulp and paper manufacture) and animal husbandry. It is also a site of rare ores such as chromium, titanium, molybdenum, vanadium, and uranium. Its population of more than 700,000 includes ethnic Russians (77 percent), Karelians (9 percent), Belarusians (5 percent), Ukrainians (3 percent), Finns (2 percent), and Vepsians (1 percent). Many “Red Finns” came as settlers from Finland after the Bolshevik Revolution, occupying an important political niche until Joseph Stalin’s political purges of the 1930s. Further internal migrations of Finns from Murmansk and Leningrad occurred during the 1940s and 1950s, swelling the Finnish population of the region. While Finnish was once an important language in the republic, it was dropped from officialdom in the 1950s. Russian has long been the dominant language in the republic, but Karelian—a Finnic tongue closely related to Finnish, but written in Cyrillic—has seen a revival since 1989.
   The first premier of the republic was Viktor Stepanov, a member of the Soviet nomenklatura>; he was succeeded by the current head of the republic, Sergey Katanandov. The former mayor of Petrozavodsk (1990–1998) and the region’s prime minister from 1998 to 2002, Katanandov was reappointed by Vladimir Putin in 2006. His recent efforts have focused on establishing a reliable legal climate in the republic. He is a close ally of Yury Luzhkov, and has signed a number of lucrative deals with Moscow, particularly on construction materials. Unemployment has been reduced to 3.3 percent, one of the lowest rates in the Russian Federation. He has taken a strong stance against the return of portions of Finland annexed to Kareliya during World War II (about 12 percent of Finland’s pre-1940 territory), a policy advocated by some right-wing Finns but not endorsed by Helsinki. Regardless, nearly half of all residents of Kareliya (Russians included) favor separatism for the republic.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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