In the broadest sense, Siberia is the Asian part of Russia, which reaches from the Ural mountains in the West and the Pacific Ocean in the East. In a narrower sense, Siberia consists of the territory of the khanate of Sibir which was occupied by Moscow during the late 16th century; this narrower definition does not include the region in the Far East. The original initiative to occupy Siberia came from the Novgorod merchant family Stroganov rather than the Muskovite state itself.

It was the Stroganov family which organized the Cossack expedition of 1577-1585 under Yermak Timofeyev, who occupied Sibir, the capital of the West-Sibirian khanate on the lower Irtysh. In the following years, Moscow secured the territory of the Kutshum khanate by building a large number of fortresses, which included Tyumen (1586), Tobolsk (1587), Tomsk (1604), Yakutsk (1632), and Irkutsk (1652/61). The tsar took part of a majority of the economic winning in the form of tributes and taxes.

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The ruins of an old house in the old settlement on the bank of the Indigirka

After the final subjugation of the Siberian Horde in 1598, the most important motor of the increasing expansion into Siberia during the 17th century was the fur-trade, in which sable played a leading role. Following the cossacks, trappers and traders pushed eastward along the Siberian rivers.

When the fur-resources of an area were exhausted, the trappers and trader moved on. In this way, the country was occupied step by step and covered with a sort of infrastructure.

In 1639, a group of cossacks under Ivan Moskvitin reached the Pacific, where the harbor of Okhotsk was founded in 1648. From here, Russian troops pushed forward into the Amur basin, although they were stopped by the Mandchus who controlled China. In 1643, Russian influence had extended to Lake Baikal. The confrontations with the Madchus were ameliorated somewhat by the treaty of Nertshinksk which fixed the Sino-Russian border on the watershed between the Lena and the Amur.

By the first half of the 18th century, the Russian expansion had reached the furthest north-east of Eurasia on the peninsulae of Tshukotka and Kamtshatka. In 1728, Peter the Second sent the Dane Vitus Bering on an expedition to explore Siberia's mineral resources. In the 18th century, Siberia also became a deportation colony from criminals and political prisoners.

Up to the end of the 19th century, settlers and runaway serfs from overpopulated parts of Greater Russia and the Ukraine colonized Siberia. The famine of 1891 and the building of the Trans-Siberian railroad intensified further settlement.

In the 1920s, Soviet rule brought an administrative-territorial reorganization to Siberia. Siberia was now divided into East-Siberian, West-Siberian and Far-East-Siberian regions (krai). The Yakutian ASSR was established in 1922 and the Buryat-Mongolian ASSR was established in 1923. The smaller peoples were gathered in national regions (okrug) in 1930. In the 1930s, Siberia became the second base of the Soviet Union's heavy industry. Favored in terms of capital investments due to its adundant ressources, it could not be developed as much as hoped because of its climatic and infrastructural problems.

Regina Kraus