Sakhalin Oblast

   An administrative region of the Russian Federation. Located within the Far Eastern Economic Region and Federal District, the oblast is comprised entirely of islands, including the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin Island. The elongated island of Sakhalin is nearly 1,000 kilometers from north to south, and only 150 kilometers at its widest point. Sakhalin’s closest neighbor is Khabarovsk Krai; the two oblasts are separated by less than 10 kilometers at the Strait of Tartary. A rail ferry connects Sakhalin Island to the mainland. Sakhalin Island and the Kurils are separated by the Sea of Okhotsk; the Sea of Japan washes the western shores of Sakhalin and the Pacific Ocean is to the east of the Kuril chain. The four southernmost islands of the Kurils are claimed by Japan; at their closest point, these islands are less than 10 kilometers from the island nation.
   The region covers an area of 87,100 square kilometers and has a population of 547,000. Though it is one of Russia’s least populous regions, it is highly urbanized with nearly 90 percent of the population living in cities. The regional capital is Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (pop. 175,000); the city, as well as the southern half of Sakhalin Island, was under Japanese control from 1905 until 1946. Approximately 85 percent of the population is ethnic Russian; other minorities include Koreans and Ukrainians, as well as the indigenous Nivkhs and Oroks. Another autochthonous population, the Ainu, was deported to Japan after World War II. Sakhalin Island’s geography is dominated by numerous lakes and rivers, boreal forests, and two parallel mountain ranges separated by the Tym-Poronaiskaya Valley. The Kuril Islands are volcanic in nature, and 40 volcanoes are currently active. The oblast was created comparatively late in Soviet history when the Khabarovsk Sakhalin region was joined with newly acquired Japanese territory after World War II. Ethnic Japanese were deported from the region, while Koreans and some indigenous populations were allowed to remain.
   Despite its reputation as a budding destination for snowboarding and eco-tourism, the movement of foreigners within the oblast remains partially restricted by the Federal Security Service (FSB) and border control. The region is a key part of Russia’s fur trade, with large populations of bear, fox, sable, raccoon, ermine, and other animals. The Sea of Okhotsk and surrounding bodies of water are some of Russia’s richest fishing grounds. Sakhalin is also endowed with extensive natural resources, including oil, natural gas, coal, gemstones, and certain rare metals.
   Hydrocarbons account for more than half of the region’s industrial output. In addition to the energy complex and fishing, forestry is also a major local industry. Most agriculture is conducted on the family or village level. Due to its location in the northern Pacific Rim, the region is well situated for foreign trade; air links connect the region to Japan, South Korea, and the United States. The region has two international schools, the Russian-American Business Education Center and the Russian-American School of Business Management of Portland State University.
   A significant number of foreign companies have invested in the oblast, including Exxon Mobil (U.S.), Mitsui (Japan), and the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd. (India). In recent years, Gazprom has muscled its way into the region, buying majority stakes in development projects such as the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas project. Due to preferential treatment of Gazprom by the Kremlin, foreign corporations such as BP and Royal Dutch Shell have been faced with difficult operating conditions. Despite the wealth generated by the energy industry, much of the local population remains mired in poverty, and unemployment remains a problem.
   Igor Farkhutdinov governed the oblast from 1995 until his death in a helicopter accident in 2003. On his watch, the oblast signed a power-sharing treaty with Boris Yeltsin’s federal government in 1996. He was a strong supporter of production-sharing agreements with foreign oil companies, which facilitated the development of the region’s ample natural resources under a free-market-type economic regime. Farkhutdinov sought to maintain vibrant economic relations with Japan during his tenure, despite controversy over the Kuril Islands following Vladimir Putin’s rise to power.
   Farkhutdinov was succeeded by Ivan Malakhov, who won reelection in late 2003. Malakhov’s policies attracted even greater levels of foreign investment, particularly in the field of mineral extraction; however, he proved to be a less effective defender of foreign firms’ interests vis-à-vis Moscow than his predecessor. He stepped down amid Putin’s criticism of his handling of the aftermath of a 2007 earthquake in southern Sakhalin Island. Putin appointed the mayor of the northern Sakhalin town of Okha, Aleksandr Khoroshavin, to replace him. Since taking office, Khoroshavin has courted Japanese investment in the Kuril Islands’ special economic zone.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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