What is Siberia? On the Map and in Russian History

I. Introduction

A. Maps

1. Russia and the Former Soviet Union

2. Siberia

B. The word Siberia (Сибирь)

C. Siberia as a Part of Russia

1. Since the late 1580s and early 1600s (analogy with British in the New World).

2. Alaskan anomaly (U.S. purchase from Russia in 1867).

3. Territorial disputes with China and Japan.

II. Main Body: "What does Siberia mean for Russia?"

A. Territorially and demographically.

1. Two thirds of its territory.

2. One third to one fourth of its population.

3. 80-90% of its revenue-producing natural resources.

4. 80-90% of its most pristine natural environment.

B. Existentially.

1. Siberia as Russia's Eastern Frontier.

a. Expansion from West to East.

b. Historical mandate (analogy with U.S. "manifest destiny").

2. Siberia as a Colony, Nikolay Yatrintsev, 1888.

a. Extraction of wealth: firs, fish, silver, gold, agricultural products.

b. Marginalization of Siberian people.

c. Opposition to autonomy or independence.

3. Siberia as a "cash cow".

a. Oil and natural gas.

b. Precious metals, including nickle, zinc, cadmium, uranium, and rare metals.

c. Lumber

d. Water

e. Air

4. The Siberian Curse, Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, 2003.

[Albatross = 1. long-winged bird of the family Diomedeidae, inhabiting the Pacific Ocean; 2. a source of frustration or guilt.]

a. Abandoned Russian (and other European) population.

b. Endangered indigenous peoples.

c. Enormous distances.

d. Difficulty of maintaining infrastructure: (1) Roads (2) Services; medical, educational, etc. (3) Employment.

e. Globalization.

(1) Foreign encroachment.

(a) Chinese (b) Japanese (c) United States

(2) Imperatives of supply and demand in world economy.

(3) Environmental degradation.

f. Global warming and climate change.

(1) Melting of ice caps.

(2) Melting of permafrost (massive release of methane gas).

g. Threatened

(1) Native customs, institutions, culture, way of life.

(2) Biological and human diversity.

5. Russia's Future Salvation?

a. Foretold by Russia's writers.

(1) Avvakum (17th century)

(2) Aleksandr Radishchev (18th century).

(3) Decembrists, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Siberian "regionalists" (oblastniki), Anton

Chekhov, Vladimir Korolenko (19th century)

(4) Varlam Shalamov, Sergey Zalygin, Viktor Astafiev, Vasily Shukshin, Aleksandr

Vampilov, Valentin Rasputin (20th century).

(5) Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1973: idea of Siberia as the future center of Russian


(a) Returned through Siberia from 20-year exile to Russia in 1994.

(b) Died in 2008 at age of 89.

b. Are Siberians more "Russian" than Russians in European Russia: Расея vis-a-vis Сибирь?

c. Siberia's boreal/northern forest (taiga, тайга) as the "lungs of the planet".

(1) Absorption of carbon dioxide, release of oxygen, mitigation of global warming.

(2) Wood and soil as a renewable resource.

d. Great rivers and lakes of Siberia as a source of clean water, fish, and other marine life.

(1) Ob' (2) Irtysh (3) Yenisey (4) Angara (5) Lena (6) Amur (7) Kolyma

(2) Lake Baikal (2) Lake Teletskoe [Altay Republic = UN World Heritage Site]

e. Revival of the frontier spirit with an ecological bent.

f. Trans-Siberian Railroad and BAM with their branches as conduits.

g. Finding a habitable refuge from the mess we've made of more highly developed and more

highly populated parts of the planet.

h. Human resources available.

(1) Scientific innovation (e. g., Dmitry Mendeleev).

(2) Artistic creativity (e. g., Aleksey Surikov).

(3) Poets and writers (e. g., Valentin Rasputin)

III. Conclusion. "What difference does Siberia mean to us, as Americans, and to the rest of the world?"

A. Siberia is 2/3 of the territory of Russia, but also 1/9 of the land mass of the planet.

B. Russia is one of the world's great powers, and Siberia is essential to it.

1. Russia = one of five permanent members of UN Security Council.

2. Russia = a member of the Big Seven plus one (advanced industrial countries).

3. USSR was one of our allies in WWII victory over axis powers in Europe and Asia.

4. Russia is our chief competitor in space exploration, superior to us in rocketry.

C. What does the United States have to learn from Russia?

1. Science

2. Arts and culture

3. Spirituality

Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 18, 2012, 6:18 PM