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REGIONS & CITIES  / WESTERN SIBERIA


This region is characterized by a unique combination of severe climatic conditions, natural resources, an extremely vulnerable environment, and a multi-ethnic population. Geographically, Western Siberia is defined as the territory east of the Ural Mountains but west of the Yenisei River.

Broadly speaking, the majority of the landscape is very flat, with large winding rivers that flow thousands of kilometers to Artic seas. You can travel for hours without seeing a hill. Large swamps occupy much of the plain area and the world's largest swamp, the Vasyuganskoye, is located on the left bank of the Ob' River.

The southern part of Western Siberia is more hilly, but provides fairly good agricultural land.  80% of the region’s population (80%) lives on this land.  Not surprisingly, it is through this populated southern part that the famous Trans-Siberian railroad runs through, connecting its major cities with the rest of Russia. The very tip of the southern part of Western Siberia, where Russian, Mongolian and Kazakhstan borders meet, is highlighted by the Altai Mountains, which provide the source of its greatest rivers - the Ob' and the Irtysh. The Altai Mountains represent the most complete sequence of altitudinal vegetation zones in central Siberia: steppe, forest-steppe, mixed forest, sub-alpine and alpine vegetation.

The early development of Western Siberia, particularly the southern section, began in Central Asia with merchants from the ancient trade centers of Samarkand and Bukhara in the X-XIV centuries, who used the massive Siberian rivers to transport their goods north. With the appearance of the Mongolian Golden Horde Empire in the thirteenth century, the area was quickly occupied and controlled for an extensive period by several Mongolian Khans (Tatars). It became a Siberian khanate with the capital city called Sibir (near modern Tobolsk), which later gave its name to the entire region. In 1581, in response to frequent attacks of Khan Kuchum, the first military mission sponsored by Russian Tsar Ivan IV was led by Yermak, who siezed Sibir. The same year, control over Sibir city was lost and gained back only in 1598. The city of Tomsk was established in 1604 to become a "gate into Siberia" from where further Russian expansion and colonization continued for the next few centuries.

The most numerous group of settlers in the first wave consisted of Cossacks, peasants from the central and southern parts of Russia. Along with the voluntary settlers encouraged by the Russian government, the "new land" was flooded with Old Believers and political exiles in the 1800s and 1900s. This involuntary settlement continued in the Soviet GULAG, a system of prison camps scattered across Siberia. Western Siberia was hardly on the map of major events happening in the country until oil and gas were discovered in the northern Khanty-Mansiisk and Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous districts. It was a real economic revolution for the region, and it initiated a new wave of development and exploration of this northern section.

Currently, Western Siberia produces 65 percent of Russia's oil and 87 percent of its gas.

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