1. Russia (17,098,246 km2)
Russia, or the Russian Federation, is a transcontinental country located in Eastern Europe and Northern Asia. Covering an area of 17,125,200 square kilometres (6,612,100 sq mi), it is the largest country in the world by area, spanning more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, stretching eleven time zones, and bordering 16 sovereign nations. The territory of Russia extends from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea and the Caucasus in the south. With 145.9 million inhabitants living in the country's 85 federal subjects, Russia is the most populous nation in Europe and the ninth-most populous nation in the world. Russia's capital and largest city is Moscow; other major urban areas include Saint Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Chelyabinsk.
The East Slavs emerged as a recognisable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. The medieval state of Rus' arose in the 9th century. In 988 it adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Rus' ultimately disintegrated into a number of smaller states, until it was finally reunified by the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the 15th century. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation, and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which became a major European power, and the third-largest empire in history, stretching from Norway on the west to Canada on the east. Following the Russian Revolution, the Russian SFSR became the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Union, the world's first constitutionally socialist state. The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II, and emerged as a recognised superpower and rival to the United States during the Cold War. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world's first human-made satellite and the launching of the first humans in space. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Russian SFSR reconstituted itself as the Russian Federation and is recognised as the continuing legal personality and a successor of the USSR.
Since 1993, Russia is governed as a federal semi-presidential republic. Vladimir Putin has dominated Russia's political system since 2000, serving as either president or prime minister. His government has been accused by non-governmental organisations of numerous human rights abuses, authoritarianism and corruption. In response, Putin has argued that Western-style liberalism is obsolete in Russia, while maintaining that the country is still a democratic nation.
The Russian economy ranks as the fifth-largest in Europe, the eleventh-largest in the world by nominal GDP and the fifth-largest by PPP. Russia's extensive mineral and energy resources are the largest such reserves in the world, making it one of the leading producers of oil and natural gas globally. The country is one of the five recognised nuclear weapons states and possesses the largest stockpile of nuclear warheads. Russia is a major great power, as well as a regional power, and has been characterised as a potential superpower. The Russian Armed Forces have been ranked as the world's second most powerful, and the most powerful in Europe. Russia hosts the world's ninth-greatest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, at 29, and is among the world's most popular tourist destinations. It is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and an active global partner of ASEAN, as well as a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), the G20, the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the International Investment Bank (IIB) and the World Trade Organization (WTO), as well as being the leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and a member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU).
2. Ukraine (603,628 km2)
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It is bordered by Russia to the north-east; Belarus to the north; Poland, Slovakia and Hungary to the west; and Romania, Moldova, and the Black Sea to the south. Ukraine is currently in a territorial dispute with Russia over the Crimean Peninsula, which Russia annexed in 2014. Including the Crimean Peninsula, Ukraine has an area of 603,628 km2 (233,062 sq mi), making it the largest country located entirely in Europe, and the 46th-largest country in the world. Excluding Crimea, Ukraine has a population of about 43 million, making it the seventh-most populous country in Europe, and the 35th-most populous country in the world. Its capital and largest city is Kiev. Ukrainian is the official language and its alphabet is Cyrillic. The dominant religion in the country is Eastern Orthodoxy.
The territory of modern Ukraine has been inhabited since 32,000 BC. During the Middle Ages, the area was a key centre of East Slavic culture, with the powerful state of Kievan Rus' forming the basis of Ukrainian identity. Following its fragmentation in the 13th century, the territory was contested, ruled and divided by a variety of powers, including the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire and Russia. A Cossack republic emerged and prospered during the 17th and 18th centuries, but its territory was eventually split between Poland and the Russian Empire. After World War II the Western part of Ukraine merged into the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the whole country became a part of the Soviet Union as a single state entity. Ukraine gained its independence in 1991, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War. Before its independence, Ukraine was typically referred to in English as "The Ukraine", but most sources have since moved to drop "the" from the name of Ukraine in all uses.
Following its independence, Ukraine declared itself a neutral state; it formed a limited military partnership with Russia and other CIS countries while also establishing a partnership with NATO in 1994. In 2013, after the government of President Viktor Yanukovych had decided to suspend the Ukraine-European Union Association Agreement and seek closer economic ties with Russia, a several-months-long wave of demonstrations and protests known as the Euromaidan began, which later escalated into the 2014 Ukrainian revolution that led to the overthrow of Yanukovych and the establishment of a new government. These events formed the background for the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014, and the War in Donbass in April 2014. On 1 January 2016, Ukraine applied the economic component of the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area with the European Union.
Ukraine is a developing country and ranks 88th on the Human Development Index. As of 2020, Ukraine is the poorest country in Europe alongside Moldova in terms of GDP per capita. At US$40, it has the lowest median wealth per adult in the world, and suffers from a very high poverty rate as well as severe corruption. However, because of its extensive fertile farmlands, Ukraine is one of the world's largest grain exporters. It also maintains the second-largest military in Europe after the Russian Armed Forces. Ukraine is a unitary republic under a semi-presidential system with separate powers: legislative, executive and judicial branches. The country is a member of the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the GUAM organization, and one of the founding states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).
3. France (640,679 km2)
France, officially the French Republic, is a country consisting of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It borders Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland, Monaco, and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions (five of which are situated overseas) span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.07 million (as of May 2020). France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice. France, including its overseas territories, has the most time zones of any country, with a total of 12.
During the Iron Age, what is now metropolitan France was inhabited by the Gauls, a collection of Celtic tribes. The area was annexed by Rome in 51 BC, developing a distinct Gallo-Roman culture that laid the foundation of the French language. The Germanic Franks arrived in 476 and formed the Kingdom of Francia, which became the heartland of the Carolingian Empire. The Treaty of Verdun of 843 partitioned the empire, with West Francia becoming the Kingdom of France in 987. Under King Philip Augustus, France emerged as a major European power in the Middle Ages. During the Renaissance, French culture flourished and a global colonial empire was established, which by the 20th century would become the second-largest in the world. The 16th century was dominated by religious civil wars between Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots). France became Europe's dominant cultural, political, and military power in the 17th century under Louis XIV. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution overthrew the absolute monarchy, establishing one of modern history's earliest republics and drafting the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which expresses the nation's ideals to this day.
In the 19th century, Napoleon took power and established the First French Empire. His subsequent Napoleonic Wars (1803–15) shaped the course of European and world history. Following the collapse of the Empire, France endured a tumultuous succession of governments culminating with the establishment of the French Third Republic in 1870. France was a major participant in World War I, from which it emerged victorious, and was one of the Allies in World War II, but came under occupation by the Axis powers in 1940. Following liberation in 1944, a Fourth Republic was established and later dissolved in the course of the Algerian War. The Fifth Republic, led by Charles de Gaulle, was formed in 1958 and remains today. Algeria and nearly all other colonies became independent in the 1960s, with most retaining close economic and military connections with France.
France retains its centuries-long status as a global centre of art, science, and philosophy. It hosts the world's fifth-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and is the leading tourist destination, receiving over 89 million foreign visitors in 2018. France is a developed country with the world's seventh-largest economy by nominal GDP, and the tenth-largest by PPP. In terms of aggregate household wealth, it ranks fourth in the world. France performs well in international rankings of education, health care, life expectancy, and human development. It is considered a great power in global affairs, being one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and an official nuclear-weapon state. France is a founding and leading member of the European Union and the Eurozone, and a member of the Group of 7, North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and La Francophonie.
4. Spain (505,990 km2)
Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a country in Southwestern Europe with some pockets of territory across the Strait of Gibraltar and the Atlantic Ocean. Its continental European territory is situated on the Iberian Peninsula. Its territory also includes two archipelagos: the Canary Islands off the coast of North Africa, and the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea. The African enclaves of Ceuta, Melilla, and Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, makes Spain the only European country to have a physical border with an African country (Morocco). Several small islands in the Alboran Sea are also part of Spanish territory. The country's mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean respectively.
With an area of 505,990 km2 (195,360 sq mi), Spain is the largest country in Southern Europe, the second-largest country in Western Europe and the European Union, and the fourth-largest country by area on the European continent. With a population exceeding 47.3 million, Spain is the sixth-most populous country in Europe, and the fourth-most populous country in the European Union. Spain's capital and largest city is Madrid; other major urban areas include Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Zaragoza, Málaga, and Bilbao.
Modern humans first arrived in the Iberian Peninsula around 35,000 years ago. Iberian cultures along with ancient Phoenician, Greek, Celtic and Carthaginian settlements developed on the peninsula until it came under Roman rule around 200 BCE, after which the region was named Hispania, based on the earlier Phoenician name Sp(a)n or Spania. At the end of the Western Roman Empire, Germanic tribal confederations migrated from Central Europe, invaded the Iberian peninsula and established relatively independent realms in its western provinces. One of them, the Visigoths, forcibly integrated all remaining independent territories in the peninsula, including the Byzantine province of Spania, into the Visigothic Kingdom.
In the early eighth century the Visigothic Kingdom was conquered by the Umayyad Islamic Caliphate. The Muslim rule in the Iberian Peninsula (al-Andalus) soon became autonomous from Baghdad. A handful of small Christian pockets in the north were left out of Muslim rule, along the presence of the Carolingian Empire near the Pyrenées, eventually led to the emergence of the Christian kingdoms of León, Castile, Aragon, Portugal and Navarre. Over seven centuries, an intermittent southwards expansion of these kingdoms (metahistorically dubbed as a reconquest: the Reconquista) culminated with the Christian seizure of the last Muslim polity (the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada) in 1492, the same year Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World. A process of political conglomeration among the Christian kingdoms also ensued, and the late 15th-century saw the dynastic union of Castile and Aragon under the Catholic Monarchs, sometimes considered to be the emergence of Spain as a unified country. The Conquest of Navarre occurred in 1512, while the Kingdom of Portugal was also ruled by the Hapsburg Dynasty between 1580 and 1640.
In the early modern period, Spain ruled one of the largest empires in history which was also one of the first global empires, spawning a large cultural and linguistic legacy that includes over 570 million Hispanophones, making Spanish the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese. Spain hosts the world's third-largest number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Spain is a secular parliamentary democracy and a parliamentary monarchy, with King Felipe VI as head of state. It is a major developed country and a high income country, with the world's fourteenth-largest economy by nominal GDP and the sixteenth-largest by PPP. It is a member of the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), the Eurozone, the Council of Europe (CoE), the Organization of Ibero-American States (OEI), the Union for the Mediterranean, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), the Schengen Area, the World Trade Organization (WTO) and many other international organisations. While not an official member, Spain has a "Permanent Invitation" to the G20 summits, participating in every summit, which makes it a de facto member of the group.
5. Sweden (450,295 km2)
Sweden, officially the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north, Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund Strait. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. The capital city is Stockholm. Sweden has a total population of 10.3 million of which 2.6 million have a foreign background. Persons with foreign backgrounds are defined as persons who are foreign-born, or born in Sweden with foreign-born parents. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi) and the highest urban concentration is in the central and southern half of the country.
Sweden is part of the geographical area of Fennoscandia. The climate is in general mild for its northerly latitude due to significant maritime influence. In spite of the high latitude, Sweden often has warm continental summers, being located in between the North Atlantic, the Baltic Sea and the vast Eurasian Russian landmass. The general climate and environment vary significantly from the south and north due to the vast latitudal difference, and much of Sweden has reliably cold and snowy winters. Southern Sweden is predominantly agricultural, while the north is heavily forested and includes a portion of the Scandinavian Mountains.
Germanic peoples have inhabited Sweden since prehistoric times, emerging into history as the Geats (Swedish Götar) and Swedes (Svear) and constituting the sea peoples known as the Norsemen. An independent Swedish state emerged during the early 12th century. After the Black Death in the middle of the 14th century killed about a third of the Scandinavian population, the Hanseatic League threatened Scandinavia's culture, finances and languages. This led to the forming of the Scandinavian Kalmar Union in 1397, which Sweden left in 1523. When Sweden became involved in the Thirty Years War on the Reformist side, an expansion of its territories began and eventually the Swedish Empire was formed. This became one of the great powers of Europe until the early 18th century. Swedish territories outside the Scandinavian Peninsula were gradually lost during the 18th and 19th centuries, ending with the annexation of present-day Finland by Russia in 1809. The last war in which Sweden was directly involved was in 1814, when Norway was militarily forced into a personal union, which peacefully dissolved in 1905. Since then, Sweden has been at peace, maintaining an official policy of neutrality in foreign affairs. In 2014, Sweden celebrated 200 years of peace, breaking even Switzerland's record for peace. Sweden was formally neutral through both world wars and the Cold War, albeit Sweden has since 2009 openly moved towards cooperation with NATO.
Sweden is a constitutional monarchy and a parliamentary democracy, with legislative power vested in the 349-member unicameral Riksdag. It is a unitary state, currently divided into 21 counties and 290 municipalities. Sweden maintains a Nordic social welfare system that provides universal health care and tertiary education for its citizens. It has the world's eleventh-highest per capita income and ranks very highly in quality of life, health, education, protection of civil liberties, economic competitiveness, income equality, gender equality, prosperity and human development. Sweden joined the European Union on 1 January 1995, but has rejected NATO membership, as well as Eurozone membership following a referendum. It is also a member of the United Nations, the Nordic Council, the Council of Europe, the World Trade Organization and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).