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Circulatory diseases, accidents, and suicides attributable to alcohol abuse are the leading causes of death among men.Malnutrition, disease, industrial pollution, poor health care, and reliance on abortion for birth control have reduced fertility rates and increased maternal and infant mortality.However, despite repression of their cultural autonomy, minority cultures have survived within the Russian Federation; including the peoples of the North Caucasus, numerous indigenous groups in Siberia, the Tatars in the Volga region, and the East Slavic Ukrainians and Belorusians.The last three groups are widely dispersed throughout the federation.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.
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.
The capital, Moscow, is in the center of this region, where much agriculture has been located despite the thin, poor soil.
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.
Equally important is the ability of rural and urban dwellers to survive challenging conditions of land, climate, and politics.
Tens of millions of families depend on food they grow for themselves. In July 1999, the population was estimated at 146,393,000, a decline of more than two million since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991.