- Occupying a vast swath of northern Eurasia, Siberia (Sibir’) constitutes more than half of the territory of the Russian Federation. Siberia stretches from the Ural Mountains in the west to the watershed Arctic and Pacific drainage basins in northeastern Eurasia. The northern border of the region is the Arctic Ocean, while its southern border is geopolitically fixed by Mongolia and Kazakhstan. Historically, Siberia once comprised lands of the Russian Far East; however, the two regions are now distinct. Siberia includes all members of the Siberian Federal District (Altay Krai, Altay Republic, Buryatiya, Zabaykalsky Krai, Irkutsk, Khakasiya, Kemerovo, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Tomsk, and Tuva), as well as portions of the Urals Federal District (Khantiya-Mansiya, Kurgan, Tyumen, and Yamaliya); Sakha is sometimes included as well, though the ethnic republic has been included in the Russian Far East since the 1960s. Historically, Siberia has been home to many of the great nomadic civilizations including the Huns, Scythians, and Mongols. Romanov Russia began the incorporation of the region in the 16th century as Cossacks moved eastward from Europe. Ethnic Russians have been settling in Siberia for centuries and now represent about 85 percent of the population; however, sizable indigenous minorities remain, including Siberian Tatars, Tuvans, Khakas, Altays, and Buryats, as well as smaller native groups known collectively as the indigenous peoples of the north. There are also an estimated 1 million ethnic Chinese immigrants in the region and neighboring Russian Far East.In the late tsarist era, the Trans-Siberian Railway opened up the zones of the region to further European settlement and tied Siberia more closely to the imperial core; the region’s population centers remain near the railway. During the Soviet period, Siberia became a human dumping ground for the punished peoples and the site of many of the regime’s gulags.The region’s climate ranges from tundra in the north to temperate broadleaf forests in the south, with a wide band of taiga in between. The absence of east-west mountain ranges translates into severe exposure to Arctic weather patterns, and thus brutally cold winters. Siberia is rich in mineral resources as well as oil and natural gas. In the south, agriculture is also a key source of employment and revenue. Heavy industry has mostly collapsed since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Novosibirsk (pop. 1,500,000) is the largest city in the region. Due to its insalubrious climate and distance from major population centers, Siberia is currently facing severely negative demographic challenges, which the federal and local governments are working to counteract.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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