Orenburg Oblast

   An administrative region of the Russian Federation. Orenburg Oblast is a prorupt region in southern Russia that narrowly separates the ethnic republics of Tatarstan and Bashkortostan from Kazakhstan; it is also bordered by Samara and Saratov in the west and Chelyabinsk in the northeast. The oblast rises into the foothills of the Ural Mountains. Like Russia itself, Orenburg is geographically Eurasian as it is divided by the Ural River, one of the traditional dividing lines between the two continents.
   Orenburg is part of the Urals Economic Region and the Volga Federal District. It occupies an area of 124,000 square kilometers and has a population of 2.1 million inhabitants. While ethnic Russians enjoy a clear majority (72 percent), Tatars (8 percent), Kazakhs (6 percent), and Bashkirs (2.5 percent) give the region a decidedly Turkic character. Approximately 20 percent of the population is Muslim, while the remainder is Eastern Orthodox. More than a half-million reside in the regional capital, Orenburg, a former Cossack outpost that served as the launching point for Russia’s conquest of Central Asia. The city was also the capital of the Kirghiz Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR), the forbearer of Soviet Kazakhstan, during the 1920s.
   Orenburg Oblast is an important donor region within the federation, with extensive natural resources and a well-developed agroindustrial complex. However, oil and natural gas exploration have taken their toll on the soil, and erosion is a major issue in the region. Likewise, widespread industrialization makes the region one of Russia’s most polluted. The region was also the site of five underground nuclear tests, and thus suffers from high levels of radiation in localized areas. Major industries include metallurgy, mechanical engineering, petroleum production, animal husbandry, and farming. Mining of nickel, copper, dolomite, quartz, gold, marble, and jasper is also important. A large number of small businesses are in operation, and unemployment is comparatively low.
   The region supported the Communist Party of the Russian Federation during the 1990s, though its governor, Vladimir Yelagin, was a backer of Boris Yeltsin’s administration. In 1996, Orenburg signed a power-sharing agreement with Moscow that recognized its importance as a border region with Kazakhstan. In 1999, Aleksey Chernyshev, a member of the Agrarian Party of Russia and former chair of the State Duma’s Committee on Agrarian Issues, defeated Yelagin; he was reelected in 2003 and reappointed by Vladimir Putin in 2005. Chernyshev has actively promoted cross-border foreign trade with neighboring Kazakhstan, as well as joint projects such as natural gas extraction and the development of a China-European Union transit corridor. Trade turnover between the region and Kazakhstan is nearly $500 million per year. In the early 1990s, there was a brief effort on the part of Tatar and Kazakh nationalists to redraw the borders of the region to allow contiguity between the Muslim, Turkic ethnic republics of the Volga region and the Central Asian republics.
   See also Pan-turkism.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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