Russia Geography Siberia


Siberia is the name for the northernmost part of Asia. Approximately thirteen million square kilometres in size, it constitutes around forty percent of the continent’s territory. Siberia is bordered by the Ural Mountains in the west, the Pacific Ocean in the east, the Arctic Ocean in the north and the Kazakh and Mongol steppes in the south. Its climate is a mixture of moderate and cold. The winters are long and the summers are warm but short.

The Siberian river network is based on four great waterways – the Ob, Yenisei, Lena and Amur. There are other large rivers – the Indigirka, Kolyma, Olenek, Khatanga and Yana – and many lakes. The largest is the world-famous Lake Baikal. There are five landscape zones in Siberia – tundra, forest, taiga (more than half its territory), mountain and steppe.

Siberia is first mentioned in the Mongol chronicles of the thirteenth century. The word appears to descend from the “Sibers” – the name of an Ugric tribe. The Russians first learnt of the existence of extensive lands to the east of the Ural Mountains in the early eleventh century. Novgorod had contacts with Siberia in the form of trade and military expeditions; their merchants exchanged iron goods and fabrics for pelts. After the Russian victory over the Golden Horde at Kazan in 1552, Muscovy established relations with the Siberian khanate.

In 1574, Ivan the Terrible granted the Stroganovs, a famous family of merchants and salt industrialists, the right to form and send military detachments to Siberia. In 1581, the Stroganovs led a large unit of Cossacks into Siberia. Headed by the Cossack ataman Yermak, they attacked and occupied the capital of the Siberian khanate – the town of Kashlyk.

The subsequent annexation of Siberia was a relatively peaceful process. Throughout the seventeenth century, free settlements and monasteries sprung up beyond the Urals. The western gates of Siberia opened to welcome a flood of settlers and governors.

Despite the harsh climate, lack of roads and impassable taiga, swamps, mountains and tundra, groups of explorers gradually assimilated Eastern Siberia and the Far East. They founded the stockade towns of Yenisei, Yakutsk, Nerchinsk and Irkutsk, before pushing on and assimilating the lands around and beyond Lake Baikal, Chukotka and Kamchatka. This process was headed by Vladimir Atlasov, Pyotr Beketov, Semyon Dezhnev, Kurbat Ivanov, Yerofei Khabarov, Ivan Moskvitin, Ivan Perfiliev and Vasily Poyarkov.

Siberia is the powerhouse of the Russian economy and home to over ninety percent of the country’s natural wealth. Almost 100% of the gold, over 95% of the diamonds, over 70% of the coal and oil and over 90% of Russia’s gas is mined in Siberia. The Bratsk, Krasnoyarsk, Ust-Ilimsk and Sayan-Shushenskoe hydroelectric stations and the aluminium factories of Irkutsk, Bratsk, Sayanogorsk and Krasnoyarsk make an important contribution to the national industry. The South Siberian, Baikal-Amur and Tyumen-Nizhnevartovsk Railway Lines run through Siberia.

Siberia is a unique crossroads of civilisations and an example of the successful interaction of different nationalities, cultures and religions. Many famous writers were born in Siberia, including Victor Astafiev, Alexander Vampilov and Valentin Rasputin.

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