Sakha Republic

   An ethnic republic of the Russian Federation. Formerly known as Yakutiya, the Sakha Republic is Russia’s largest federal subject. Only slightly smaller than India, the republic spans three time zones and covers an area of 3,100,000 square kilometers. Globally, Sakha is the largest subnational political region, and it would be the world’s eighth-largest country if it were independent of Russia. Sakha is washed by the Laptev Sea and the Eastern Siberian Sea, and has an Arctic Ocean coastline of 4,500 kilometers. Sakha administers the Anzhu, Lyakhovsky, and De Long Islands, which are collectively known as the New Siberian Islands. More than one-third of the region lies above the Arctic Circle. Much of the republic is covered by permafrost, with tundra in the north and taiga in the south. The Lena, which empties into the Laptev Sea, is the region’s major river; there are currently no bridges in the region spanning the river, though one is due to be completed in 2013. Other rivers include the Kolyma, Indigirka, and Yana, and the Vilyuy and Aldan, both tributaries of the Lena.
   Sakha is part of the Far Eastern Economic Region and Federal District. The administrative capital is Yakutsk (pop. 210,000), also known as Dyokuuskay. Yakutsk is one of the coldest cities on earth. The republic shares borders with Chukotka, Magadan, Khabarovsk Krai, Amur Oblast, Zabaykalsky Krai, Irkutsk, and Krasnoyarsk Krai (prior to 1 January 2007, it bordered the federal subjects of Evenkiya and Taymyriya, both of which are now part of Krasnoyarsk).
   Despite its vast geography, the republic has fewer than 1 million inhabitants. The titular plurality, Sakha (Yakuts), accounts for 46 percent of the population; the second-largest group is ethnic Russians, who comprise 41 percent of the republic’s population. Other statistically significant ethnic minorities include Ukrainians (3.5 percent), Evenks (2 percent), and Evens (1 percent). The official languages of the republic are Sakha (Yakut) and Russian; Evenk, Even, Yukaghir, Dolgan, and Chukchi are recognized as official languages in local areas where these ethnic groups predominate. Most of the population resides in its 10 cities; about one-third of the population lives in village settlements numbering fewer than 700. Eastern Orthodoxy is the dominant faith in the republic, though many indigenous peoples continue to observe pagan rites.
   The region is particularly rich in natural resources and precious metals, including gold, diamonds, antimony, silver, oil, and natural gas; the republic holds 45 percent of Russia’s coal reserves and is a major exporter of the product to the Pacific Rim. Sakha is the center for diamond mining in Russia, accounting for 95 percent of the country’s production; the diamond industry is controlled by ZAO ALROSA. A number of alternative fuels also exist in the region but are as yet underdeveloped. Consumer goods, fruits, and vegetables are highly priced in the region due to the region’s harsh climate and remote location as well as its limited transportation infrastructure; however, unemployment is comparatively low and Sakha’s per capita income is among Russia’s highest.
   Foreign trade turnover in 2007 was $2.6 billion; economic relations are particularly strong with Japan and China. Yakutiya was first granted autonomy as an Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) in 1922 under the leadership of the poet Platon Oyunsky. During the period of glasnost, a resurgence of Yakut identity combined with a strong environmental and localist movement intent on wresting control of the region’s vast resources from Moscow produced a particularly vibrant nationalist program in the region. On 27 April 1990, local leaders declared a Yakut-Sakha SSR; Yakutiya’s declaration, like those of Gorno-Altay and Chechnya-Ingushetiya, was not recognized by the leadership of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, precipitating a temporary halt on diamond exports from the region.
   However, the region’s status was changed to a republic on 15 August 1991. The region was officially renamed the Sakha Republic in March 1992, and an Agreement on Economic Relations with Boris Yeltsin’s government was signed, providing extensive local control over the region’s natural resources and state-owned property; one of the provisions allowed for sales of 20 percent of all extracted diamonds to be controlled by the regional authorities. Sakha’s parliament,
   Il Tumen, adopted a new constitution in April 1992. Elected shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Nikolayev, an ethnic Sakha and a former veterinarian, oversaw the republic’s post-Soviet transition, as well as the republic’s powersharing arrangement with Moscow on 28 June 1995. He proved to be one of Yeltsin’s staunchest supporters among the regional governors, particularly during the constitutional crisis of 1993. As one of the “little fathers,” that is, one of the Russian Federation’s ethnic republican presidents, he emerged as a powerful voice for Russia’s need to envision itself as a “federation of nation-states,” rather than a simple federal state. Nikolayev exerted almost unquestioned control over the regional economy during his tenure, appointing prominent businesspeople to key posts to ensure synergy between the state and local corporations. He established economic relations with 50 foreign governments, including Great Britain, Belgium, Israel, and the United States.
   Nikolayev also sought to utilize the region’s vast and underpopulated territory for animal conservation, establishing partnerships with other northern countries such as Canada. The region possesses some of the best-preserved mammoth skeletons in the world. Federal rules prevented Nikolayev from running for a third term in 2001, despite republican statutes to the contrary and strong support from the local population.
   He was replaced by Vyacheslav Shtyrov, head of ALROSA, who won nearly 60 percent of the vote. Shtyrov, who had served as vice president of the republic in the early 1990s, was backed both by Vladimir Putin and the outgoing president, Nikolayev; he was reappointed by Putin in 2007 for a second five-year term. With a net worth of $410 million, he is considered one of Russia’s richest citizens. Economic relations with South Korea have expanded under his watch, and he has worked closely with Gazprom to expand the region’s export of its natural gas to East Asia. Support for separatism in Sakha is among the highest in the federation, only exceeded by Tatarstan. More than half of all Sakha support independence, as do nearly one-third of ethnic Russians.
   See also Indigenous peoples of the North; Neo-paganism; North Korea; Pan-turkism.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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