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Russia is the world's largest Arctic country and since the break up of the Soviet Union has become an even more decidedly northern country, with almost all of its territories lying to the latitudes north of the conterminous United States. Although Russia shares similar concerns with its Arctic neighbors related to environmental change and sustainable development, the country is undergoing a geopolitical transition and is having to deal with environmental challenges not experienced elsewhere in the Arctic. Civil society is facing a traumatic transformation and the living conditions and rights of indigenous peoples in the Russian North and Far East are nowhere near the levels achieved in other Arctic nations. This article provides an introduction to the place of the Russian North within the context of the Circumpolar North, and sets the scene for the papers that follow in this special issue of Polar Geography.