7.2 Regions: Siberia, the Far East, and Southern Russia


Siberia, as a place name, actually refers to all of Asian Russia east of the Ural Mountains, including the Eastern Frontier and the Russian Far East. However, in this and some other geography textbooks, the term Siberia more specifically describes only the region north of the Eastern Frontier that extends to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The word Siberia conjures up visions of a cold and isolated place, which is true. Stretching from the northern Ural Mountains to the Bering Strait, Siberia is larger than the entire United States but is home to only about fifteen million people. Its cities are located on strategic rivers with few overland highways connecting them.

Optional video: Visiting the coldest town in the world – Chilling Out | 60 Minutes Australia
(13 min. long)

Type D (continental) climates dominate the southern portion of this region, and the territory consists mainly of coniferous forests in a biome called the taiga. This is one of the world’s largest taiga regions.

MooMoo Math and Science: Taiga Biome Facts

Type E (polar) climates can be found north of the taiga along the coast of the Arctic Sea, where the tundra is the main physical landscape. No trees grow in the tundra because of the semifrozen ground. Permafrost may thaw near the surface during the short summer season but is permanently frozen beneath the surface. On the eastern edge of the continent, the mountainous Kamchatka Peninsula has twenty active volcanoes and more than one hundred inactive volcanoes. It is one of the most active geological regions on the Pacific Rim.

The vast northern region of Russia is sparsely inhabited but holds enormous quantities of natural resources such as oil, timber, diamonds, natural gas, gold, and silver. There are vast resources in Siberia waiting to be extracted, and this treasure trove will play an important role in Russia’s economic future.

Here is a book set in Siberia:

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia

The Endless Steppe: Growing Up in Siberia

In June 1941, the Rudomin family is arrested by the Russians. They are accused of being capitalists, “enemies of the people.” Forced from their home and friends in Vilna, Poland, they are herded into crowded cattle cars. Their destination: the endless steppe of Siberia.

For five years, Esther and her family live in exile, weeding potato fields, working in the mines, and struggling to stay alive. But in the middle of hardship and oppression, the strength of their small family sustains them and gives them hope for the future.

The Far East

Across the strait from Japan is Russia’s Far East region, with the port of Vladivostok (population about 578,000) as its primary city.

Collage of Vladivostok
Collage of Vladivostok

Click here to see where Vladvistock is located via Google Maps. Zoom in and drag the little person on the lower right-hand corner to a street. Look around and explore!

Bordering North Korea and China, this Far East region is linked to Moscow by the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Travelling Trans Siberian Railway | Top Stories | CBC

Before 1991, Vladivostok was closed to outsiders and was an important army and naval base for the Russian military. Goods and raw materials from Siberia and nearby Sakhalin Island were processed here and shipped west by train. Sakhalin Island and its coastal waters have oil and mineral resources. Industrial and business enterprises declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Today, the Far East is finding itself on the periphery of Russia’s hierarchy of productivity. However, it has the potential to emerge again as an important link to the Pacific Rim markets.

Southern Russia

In the southern portion of the Russian core lies a land bridge between Europe and Southwest Asia: a region dominated by the Caucasus Mountains. To the west is the Black Sea, and to the east is the landlocked Caspian Sea. Located on the border between Georgia and Russia, Mt. Elbrus is the highest peak on the European continent as well as the highest peak in Russia.

Mt. Elbrus
Mt. Elbrus

Most of this region was conquered by the Russian Empire during the nineteenth century and held as part of the Soviet Union in the twentieth. However, only a minority of its population is ethnic Russian, and its people consist of a constellation of at least fifty ethnic groups speaking a variety of languages.

Ethnic groups in the Caucasus region
Ethnic groups in the Caucasus region
NativLang: The Caucasus: Mountains Full of Languages

The Caucasus is an area of great ecological importance. Its wildlife includes Persian leopards, brown bears, wolves, bison, marals (Caspian red deer), and golden eagles.

Maral (Caspian red deer)
Marals are mostly nocturnal and eat grass, berries, and mushrooms.
Persian leopard
Persian leopard
New Hope for Persian Leopards Once Hunted Near Extinction | Nat Geo Wild

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Caucasus region has been the main location of unrest within Russia. Wars between Russia and groups in the Caucasus have claimed thousands of lives. Some of the non-Russian territories of the Caucasus would like to become independent, but Russia fears an unraveling of its country if their secession is allowed to proceed. To understand why the Russians have fought the independence of places such as Chechnya but did not fight against the independence of other former Soviet states in the Caucasus such as Armenia, it is necessary to study the administrative structure of Russia itself.

Chechnya and Caucasus
Chechnya and Caucasus

Of the twenty-one republics, eight are located in southern Russia in the Caucasus region. One of these, the Chechen Republic (or Chechnya), has never signed the Federation Treaty to join the Russian Federation; in fact, Chechnya proposed independence after the breakup of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Although other territories to the south of Chechnya, such as Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, also declared their independence from Russia after 1991, they were never administratively part of Russia. During the Soviet era, those countries were classified as Soviet Socialist Republics, so it was easy for them to become independent countries when all the other republics (e.g., Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan) did so after 1991. However, Chechnya was administratively part of the USSR with no right to secession.

After 1991, Russia decided that it would not allow territories that had been administratively governed by Russia to secede and has fought wars to prevent that from happening. It feared the consequences if all twenty-one republics within the Russian Federation were declared independent countries.

Chechnya has fought against Russia for independence twice since the USSR’s collapse. The First Chechen War (1994–96) ended in a stalemate, and Russia allowed the Chechens to have de facto independence for several years. But in 1999, Russia resumed military action, and by 2009 the war was essentially over and Chechnya was once more under Russia’s control. Between twenty-five thousand and fifty thousand Chechens were killed in the war, and between five thousand and eleven thousand Russian soldiers were also killed. In 2003, the United Nations called Grozny, Chechnya’s capital, the most destroyed city on Earth.

Damaged apartment buildings in 2006
Damaged apartment buildings in Grozny in 2006

Reconstruction of Grozny has slowly begun.

The following two videos do a good job of explaining the Chechen Wars:

Feature History – Chechen Wars (1/2)
Feature History – Chechen Wars (2/2)

Even before the recent wars, Chechnya had a difficult past. Over the course of its history, it has been at the boundary between the Ottoman Empire, the Persian Empire, and the Russian Empire. Most of the people converted to Sunni Islam in the 1700s to curry favor with the Ottomans and seek their protection against Russian encroachment. Nevertheless, Chechnya was annexed by the Russian Empire. During Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s reign of terror, more than five hundred thousand Chechens were loaded on train cars and shipped to Kazakhstan, where as many as half died.

We want to know what you thought of what you just read and watched! Leave us a comment! Please also let us know if a link or video isn’t working. 🙂

Next: 7.3 Transcaucasia (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan)

Additional information and image credits for Chapter 7:

Russia map
Russia info
Russia size comparison map
By Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). – Map from CIA World Factbook, 2015., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=64316843
Trans-Siberian railway
By Stefan Ertmann & Lokal Profil – :wmc:Map_of_Russia_-_Time_Zones.svg, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22748147
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
By Alvesgaspar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15824660
Tiaga forest
By xndr – Я автор этого фото, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5925502
Northern Asia map
By unknown, cut and additions by Ulamm 12:25, 18 April 2008 (UTC) – Via en:Image:Asia-map.png: cropped from https://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/reference_maps/pdf/asia.pdf, rendered at 250% magnification in Acrobat Reader —Veliath 18:21, 17 August 2006 (UTC), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3900410
By © Vyacheslav Argenberg / http://www.vascoplanet.com/, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=78975685
Russian arctic
By Envisat satellite – http://www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2008/03/Arctic_Northwest_Russia, CC BY-SA 3.0-igo, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56883804
By Ivan Shishkin – artchive.ru, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76574453
Cape Stolbchaty
By Екатерина Васягина – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=69960916
Amur River
By Kmusser – Own work using Digital Chart of the World and GTOPO data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6077796
Disputed area
By Insider – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12267766
Topographic map of the Caucasus
By Bourrichon – fr:Bourrichon) – Own work ;Topographic data from the NASA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM3 v.2) (public domain) edited with 3DEM, reprojected in UTM with GDAL (GDAL), and vectorized with Inkscape ; UTM projection ; WGS84 datum ; shaded relief (composite image of N-W, W and N lightning positions) ;Reference used for the additional data :* Rivers, bathymetry : Demis add-on for World Wind (see the approval e-mail and the Demis forum) ;* coast : World data bank II ;Approximate scale of topographic data : 1:1,463,000 ;Note : The shaded relief is a raster image embedded in the SVG file., CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5160199|
Caucasus Mountains map and Eastern Russia cities map and Russia physical map- Usage terms: https://www.freeworldmaps.net/about.html
Asia region map
By Cacahuate, amendments by Peter Fitzgerald, Globe-trotter, Joelf, and Texugo – Own work based on the blank world map, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=22746259
European/Russian Plain
By PM / P – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5114637
By Separation51 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29439369
Volga River map
CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1122527
Ural Mountains
By ugraland [1] – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ugra/448118784/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3651439
Volga delta
By NASA – https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasa2explore/48139665557/, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=80624490
Kuzbas coal mining
By Rvetal – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7600976
Vladivostok collage
Mt. Elbrus
By LxAndrew – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23286171
CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=53725
By Rasul70 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29712102
Ethnic groups in the Caucasus
By I, Pmx, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2430263
Grozny apartments
By Michal Vogt [1] from Warsaw, Poland – Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2182389
Lake Baikal map
By Kmusser – Own work using Digital Chart of the World and GTOPO data., CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4792956
Traditional dress Georgians
By ritingon – https://www.flickr.com/photos/ritingonthewall/1577238983/in/set-72157602059123702/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2940525
Georgia map
By OCHA, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32738325
Armenia map
By 517design – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=84985541
Mt. Ararat
By Սէրուժ Ուրիշեան (Serouj Ourishian) – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=32500984
Russian cuisine
Capsipan red deer
By myself – Own work, FAL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=30212513
Persian leopard
By Tamar Assaf – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8886327