Russian Far East


Dr. Doug Causey, UAA

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Slide 1

Slide 2: Shows a circumpolar map, the area in the yellow rectangle is Beringia—includes Russian Far East, Bering Sea, Chukchi Sea, Beaufort Sea, (shallow seas), Alaska, Bering Strait. Geographers and system ecologists consider it to be one region because the region shares a lot (but there are differences in political boundaries and sociopolitical systems). RFE/Eastern Siberia are included in this area. Beringia is an area of great cultural diversity--there are over 100 languages spoken in Alaska

Slide3 : The RFE is in color—this area has been called many things over time, but since the mid 18th century it has been an administrative unit within Russia (there is only a vague boundary between Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East, it is not easy to locate a specific boundary). The geographic attributes of this area looked at using a broad approach: historically this area was in Tsarist times considered the “ends of the earth.” It took 6 months to go from Moscow to the far edge during early colonization. There was no way to sail there, so you had to go on foot the whole way. Far East—who went there? Occasionally tsarist military contingents, but mostly fur traders, dissidents, and people that got sent away by government. 17th to 18th century-- either people out to make a buck, out to escape repression, or people who were pushed there. Not unlike Alaska (making money, getting away from the law). This history is pertinent and relates to how we think of the north-- the enormous distance was important, the people who settled it were trying to get someplace far away from the political center. Even now there is not much infrastructure. A key aspect of both Alaska and the Russian Far East is the lack of infrastructure. In the RFE there is only one major road and the Trans Siberian Railway (and both are relatively recent developments). But with establishment of trade and exploration—both the materials that were extracted and the money that was collected had to get back to the capitol. This created a need to improve transportation. What roads there were (gravel roads created by the serf economy- which was actually a slave economy- made the roads) across rivers cut trees and temporary crossings. Tsarist government wanted to improve ability to move from east to west.

Slide 4: A large number of the people who colonized Siberia were dissidents, many religious dissidents. In Western Europe the equivalent at this time would have been different groups of Protestants, but in Russia the schism was against the Orthodox church, and the schismatic groups were very diverse.

Slide 5: One example were the Molokans (they differ in way they cross themselves, drank milk on feast days). Molokans wound up in California, and the largest settlement was in the town that Dr. Causey grew up in in Orange County. The leaders of the Molokans in California in the 1920’s helped begin the Pentecostal movement. More Information about Molokans

Slide 6: Vasily Surikov's painting of the Boyarina Morozova being dragged off. She was a leader of schismatics at a very early stage, and was sent into exile because of her support of Old Believers.

Slide 7: Map of Gulags of the USSR. The largest number during Stalin's time were in European Russia, but a number were in the Russian Far East (some of them were established during tsartist times). In Siberia these were forced labor camps and were placed in locations where mining was occurring (under horrible conditions). The life expectancy was very low. Magadan was the central gathering point for prisoners who ended up in Gulags. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Dr. Causey was in Siberia, and observed that once the country changed people in places that were Gulags left to move to other places. There is still a major problem that people don’t want to live in the Russia Far East. One area went from being a major industrial port to almost nothing--many areas are now completely depopulated. Rangel Island is a World Heritage Site with many years of research, but no one lives there anymore. The great development that happened to develop extraction economies under the Soviets changed radically when the political system changed, and once the government could no longer enforce control of where people lived the population changed. Magadan is one of the largest population centers in the world that is that far north (UAA has a research and area studies program there).

Slide 8:
Indigenous Peoples of the Russian Far East. Chuckchi people language similar to Yupik, Evenk. Where the population density is at its highest the density of people probably never exceeds 2 people per sq kilometer.

Slide 9: Population size of Russian Far East—roughly 100,000 people. Indigenous people in Russia are called “Small Peoples” which means that their numbers are small. The history under Tsarsit and Soviet Russia has not been a happy one.

Slide 10: The Russian Far East in terms of people and infrastructure is very dispersed and minimal. The energy infrastructure of the Russian Far East is hardly anything, a few electrical powerplants, no pipelines for pumping oil. Petroleum reserves are enormous, substantial, and almost entirely undeveloped.

Slide 11: A map of offshore petroleum reserves—you have official numbers, then you have what is actually happening: this is black market/barter/shadow economy/knowing someone---- the illegal economy of the Russian Far East is discussed in the articles in the attachment section at the bottom of this page. A good rule of thumb is that the shadow economy is either equal to or 2x the official economy.  For forestry and fishing it is easy to comprehend how you can do things illegally, but there are even illegal open pit mines. Not just under the table, but with the collusion of high levels of government. Up in the Arctic Dr. Causey knows the reserves are more extensive than shown on this map, so this is more of a minimal estimate.

Slide 12: This is a mineral map—gold and diamonds are the big players. In Alaska it is gold, copper, rare earths. No infrastructure to speak of, so you can extract a ton of gold, but how do you move it without roads? Flying is expensive.

Slide 13
: At the very beginning it was recognized that you need to have a way to move things around—first proposal for a trans Siberian railroad was in the mid 1700, it actually got started in the 1860’s in the Urals and maybe a little beyond, and finally was officially finished in 1905. In Siberia building began in the 1890s and took about 15 years (1890-1905). In Alaska the only major train route runs from Seward to Fairbanks. Anchorage didn’t exist before 1910, and its purpose was for building the railroad, with the major reason to transport gold. Seward is the major deep water port in Alaska. In Alaska the railroad goes north-south to transport minerals from the interior to the seaport, nothing goes east-west. In Canada the train goes to Churchill. Only in Scandinavia do you have trains that actually go anywhere—in the Arctic as a general rule there is not much infrastructure. In the large scale of things, the train in Alaska doesn’t cover much territory, but it is the only way to get to some areas-- there is a train that you can stop at any point to get off or flag down (it is a whistle stop train) which is the only way to get to some settlements.

Slide 14
: Mining developments in Chukotka region of Siberia. Image of a defunct diamond mine that is the largest open pit mine ever built. Tailings and over burden cause significant environmental problems (another example of this is the Norilsk tailings and smoke stacks that have devegeted everything down wind).

Slide 16: The timber trade in the Russian Far East-- most is sold to Japan, China, and Korea. Hardwoods are highly prized. 40-50% is sold illegally. Illegal trade in forestry—effects of corruption and inefficiencies (taxes not collected, timber wasted) are discussed in the articles in the attachment section at the bottom of this page.

Slide 17: What are the health consequences of environmental degradation in the Russian Far East? Maps in the slides were based on data compiled in 1998 (no longer collected) which was the first time these statistics were published outside of Russia, creating great controversy (also discussed in Dr. Causey's lecture on the Russian North).

Slide 18: Map showing the Russian Far East change in volume of pollutants in atmosphere in 1993 as % of 1992. In one year Kamchatka region pollutants in the atmosphere increased over 200%. This was directly related to economic development. 

Slide 19: Life expectancy at age 1 in 1992 in RFE on average only 65 years. Probability of dying at age of 5 in 1992 was 4%.

Slide 20: Probability of dying before age 5.

Slide 21: The average age of death from respiratory diseases was 60-66. In comparison most developed European countries it was 72. In the Arctic the age for respiratory disease death is quite low, because you are inside all the time so diseases are easily transmitted between people.

Slide 22: Live births per 1000 women of reproductive age in U.S. is about 120, in the RFE it is about 30 (1/3 that of developed industrial countries).

Slide 23: Number of abortions—high in 1992 (that was form of birth control).

The picture is that even for Siberian standards, the RFE is isolated, rural, undeveloped, lacks infrastructure, people are poor, depopulating (2 years ago Russian government once again began giving incentives for people to move to the RFE), declining birth rate, high death rate. For different reasons there are relatively low populations in Arctic regions with the exception of Scandanavia. In Alaska the workforce moves back and forth to oil fields (2 weeks on and 2 off), transported back and forth, no one lives permanently. In Tsarist and Soviet Russia people were moved to areas where resources were being extracted and made to stay permanently-- you can’t do that in Alaska.

Class Discussion

Led by Dr. Lil Alessa

Why is Alaska linked in people’s minds to the Russian Far East rather than Canada?

  • Indigenous Peoples are related and people moved back and forth across the Bering Strait.
  • Canada was populated from the west by Europeans, but the settlement history of Alaska was from the east. The Russians came to Alaska for fur trade. 
  • Religion—the Orthodox Church set up missions in Alaska, but the Yukon didn’t send missionaries like the Russians did. 
  • A lot of permanent communities were set up for trade between Alaska and Russia. 
  • Shared geomorphological/paleogeological history "Beringia". 
  • Canadians have trade access to the U.S. but Alaska is geographically closer to Russia, so proximity of markets is a factor.
  • Both share a history of colonial relationship between periphery and center. The Russian Far East was always perceived of as a colony of Moscow. Alaska was originally viewed as a colony of the U.S. (especially during the territorial period before statehood, but even now it acts as a resource colony). In contrast, Canada perceived its northern regions not as colonies but as contiguous territories. So Alaska and the RFE can relate in a way that Canada doesn't to a colonial experience.
  • A lot of fauna are more similar between RFE and Alaska compared to that of Canada.
  • Coastal proximity for Alaska and RFE vs. Canada which, is more focused inland. Maritime climate of RFE is very different than Eastern Siberia, which has the coldest temperatures on the planet outside of Antarctica. This is in contrast to the RFE with its maritime climate. The RFE is more like Alaska, were most functional populations are also in maritime regions.
  • Geology—the Ring of Fire. Active volcanoes and earthquakes abundant in both the RFE and Alaska.
  • Similar socio economic systems mean that the two regions have a lot to offer to each other.
  • The shared marine environment and marine (not land) biota that move in marine environment move fluidly between them.
  • Attitudes towards resources—both founded by extractive worldview.
  • European Russia, the Eurpoean north has a lot of manufacturing, Canada doesn’t have much in the north, but Alaska has no manufacturing at all—it is an extractive economy (some sustainable, some not sustainable). Both Alaska and the RFE therefore share the condition of underdevelopment.

Alaska and the Russian Far East are therefore culturally, economically, geologically, environmentally contiguous. So how can the two regions help each other—and should they help each other develop sustained and diverse economies necessary for survival? A recent example of cooperation was the Russian ice breaker that helped deliver heating oil to Nome. This is an example of shared infrastructure.

But are there barriers to working together on diversifying economy? The question was raised-- why should they diversify when oil and gas are so profitable, and why should they cooperate when the monopoly for extraction leads to competition, not cooperation? Political barriers—Cold War legacy, there is the perception that there is gross corruption in the Russian political system, which leads to mistrust, political and geopolitical barriers to U/S.-Russian cooperation. Language can also be a barrier—but the only major language difference is the Russian/English divide, while many of the Indigenous languages are shared in common.

Cooperation may be necessary because returns so great and global needs are so great that it may facilitate cooperation in oil extraction. Is timber a global or regional resource? Can the Beringia region develop the ability to be sustainable and integrated— and is this of global significance? For example, if you take away the taiga it brings us closer to ecological collapse because of the impact on atmosphere ("the lungs of the planet").

We can conclude that we have constructed a good argument that this region is a global resource hot spot (salmon is one good example). Since it is an ecosystem services hotspot, the only way to make it continue as functional is to form a regional collaboration for sustainability.


KU Class Discussion

Led by Dr. Jerry Mikkelson

Eastern Siberia extends from the Yennisey River to an indistinct boundary formed by the eastern mountains which separate the Russian Far East.

Until 1867 Alaska was Russian America. The town of Seward was named after the U.S. Secretary of State who engineered the purchase. Alaska was a territory until the 1950’s when became state. 

The RFE during the Cold War was heavily fortified (in common with Alaska). Vladivostok is unofficial capitol of the RFE, has always been (relatively young city) a port city. During the Cold War it was a heavily fortified port. There has been talk of Vladivostok becoming an economic free zone (duty free/tariff free) although this hasn’t yet happened.

Russian Far East place names that are important to mention—Chukotka Peninsula (Indigenous People historically inhabiting were Chuckota). Kamchatka Peninsula— Vast majority of active volcanoes of the RFE. Possesses enormous natural resources, most important are fisheries. Economy of RFE consists of both legal and illegal extraction. There is a tremendous potential for sport fishing and hunting—ecotourism could become big business.

The Kamchatcka Peninsula can be thought of as the largest part of an archipelago—there is a chain of islands that come off of it called the Kurile Islands. Some of the islands are Russia's, the rest are Japan's. This has been contested territory for a couple of centuries (it is still contested).

Sakhalin Island—in terms of Russian history this was a site of an infamous prison. Helen Hundley will talk about the cities of Siberia and how they came into being. In two weeks she will talk about imprisonment and exile. Sakhalin can be thought of as the “Devil's Island” (French) or “Botany Bay” (British) of the Russian empire. The prison ended around 1900 but previous to that it was where people were sent from all over Russia. Sakhalin holds an important place in Russian Siberian literature. Chekov (1869-1904, died of consumption-TB), Russia’s greatest playwright, greatest short story writer was first a medical doctor. He took the train in 1890 as far as he could, then after Ural Mountains went by horse drawn carriages for many months, finally got to Sakhalin, and spent about 6 months interviewing everyone (including prisoners and Indigenous Peoples). He came back with a huge number of pages of notes for the book Island of Sakhalin—this book created a tremendous stir, and it caused a transformation of public opinion in the reading public. In less than a decade the government closed down Sakhalin as prison. Before 1880s, the southern half of Sakhalin belonged to Japan, only by way of conquest in WWII did the Soviets got the entire island plus some of the  Kurile Islands. Lots of oil there, Harry Sinclair tried to work out deal with Lenin but it fell through because the U.S. State Department shut it down. Sinclair wanted to start developing oil resources. Russians with help of Exxon Mobil and other western oil companies are making efforts to develop offshore oil resources. 

We began the semester taking the big picture view of Siberia, but next week when Dr. Hundley talks about cities we will start focusing in on smaller areas and specific subjects.

The KU students were given two articles to read for the upcoming lectures:

The Man Who Saved Siberia by Nikolai Ignatiev, in Condi Nast Traveller. Sergei Zalygin (1913-2000) lectured at KU in 1987 and 1998. He was born in Western Siberia. Zalygin was a hydrologist by training, and worked as a professor at Omsk University, then became full time creative writer and editor of Novy Mir Новый Мир. His work was important for the preservation of the natural world—in the late 1950s-1960s he led the environmental movement that stopped the reversal of the flow of Siberians rivers (Ob, Yennisey, Lena). Engineers were planning to build enormous canals and dams to send water to the Central Asian cotton fields. Scientific opposition was important to stopping it. Zalygin won an award for his work.

Empire at the End of the Earth by Brett Forrest. Western Siberia's Yamal Peninsula is also called the Yamla-Nenets Peninsula (the dominant Indigenous group is the Nenets). The Yamal Peninsula is important to President Putin. In a recent position paper published about Russian economy he said that Russia needs to diversify the economy so that it no longer is dependent on extraction. This needs to happen, because if the price of oil and gas plunges it will disrupt the economy. Even as he says that Russia pushes to develop gas and oil resources at a fast rate. One of the latest schemes is to develop natural gas from the Yamal Peninsula. They have begun to build the pipelines. North of the Arctic Circle the climate is severe, which creates a problem for development. Murmansk is at the furthest point of the Gulf Stream, which moderates climate or northern Europe. But the Yamal is beyond the extent of the Gulf Stream. Russians are leaders in the development of atomic ice breakers to keep waters open for oil and gas development (as well as getting supplies to communities).

Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Feb 15, 2012, 6:23 AM
Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Feb 15, 2012, 6:25 AM
Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Feb 15, 2012, 6:25 AM