SIBERIA AND RUSSIA’S FAR EAST: A GATEWAY TO THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION

In the recent decade the Asia-Pacific Region is steadily gaining a growing importance as one of the driving forces of global economy. The ongoing integration dynamics within the ASEAN and its deepening ties with Australia, China, India, Japan, Russia, USA and other powers make the focus of world politics increasingly shifting to the region. These processes coincide with Russia's development efforts in Siberia and the country's Far East which are aimed at opening up an enormous economic potential of these vast territories and intensifying cooperation with the regional neighbors in a wide range of areas, including energy, agriculture and transportation. Geographical position of this part of Russia makes it the country's major gateway to and a natural connectivity link with other Asia-Pacific states.

 

Situated to the east off the Urals mountain range, that divides Russia into its European and Asian parts in geographical terms, Siberia and the Far East together constitute about two thirds of Russia's total territory, occupying more than 5 million square miles (or almost 10% of Earth's land surface). The exploration of Siberia started in 16th century with a growing number of Russian trade settlements and fortified outposts appearing further to the East from the boundaries of the then Moscow Tsardom. The name Sibier became first known in Europe in 1595 when Gerardus Mercator printed the map the Eurasia. By the mid-17th century the Russian explorers reached the Pacific coast and the modern history of this vast region had started. Inclusion of Siberia has had a lasting and powerful impact on the Russia's history, opening up the new horizons and launching a centuries-long creative labor that had formative influences on the Russian national character.

 

The region has proven to be one of the world's richest deposits of natural resources. Discoveries of gold, diamonds, rare stones and metals, oil and natural gas at different stages contributed to the rise of Siberia and the Far East as one of the pillars of economic development and national wealth. Within the last decade the region has been emerging as a major supplier of hydrocarbons to international markets with construction of the Eastern Siberian oil pipeline and development of the Sakhalin natural gas deposits. In terms of its production capacity, the Sakhalin LNG plant is one of the region's leading operator contributing to balancing the growing demand in environment-friendly sources of energy in the Far East and South-East Asia.

 

In the 20th century the region had become a home to a number of research institutes under the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Science which accumulated leading scientists in the fields of mathematics, theoretical and applied physics. This gave rise to development of a number of modern industries, including IT and aviation. Today Siberia is one of the Russia's major aviation and airspace industrial centers with world leading brands like Sukhoi having research and production base here. Over the years a number of hydropower projects were completed on Siberian mighty rivers, making the regional power generation sector one of the leading in Russia in terms of production capacity and price efficiency. Due to geographical location of the Far East, shipbuilding industry has become a significant component of the local economy.

 

Throughout the history of the region's exploration one of the challenges has always been the task of developing in-land transportation routes which would connect remote areas with the central parts of Russia. In the beginning of the 20th century, following a two decades-long construction work, the Trans-Siberian Railway finally connected Moscow with the Russia's Pacific port Vladivostok. Later on additional stretches were constructed, providing railway connectivity with Beijing (China) and Ulan Bator (Mongolia). An incredibly long rail route, with almost 10 thousand km between its two endpoints, allows a travel from European capitals, via connections in Moscow and Sankt-Petersburg, to the most remote end of the Russian Far East.

 

Along its way the Trans-Siberian Railway passes through fascinating landscapes of Siberia, giving the traveler a chance to enjoy the region's scenic natural beauty. One of the primary places of interest is the Lake Baikal, the world's deepest natural lake that contains nearly one-fifth of the planet's fresh water. The Siberian ecosystem abounds unique flora and fauna. Along with other rare species, it is the natural habitat of Siberian (Amur) tiger, the biggest wild cat on Earth.

 

Siberia is a homeland of many nationalities with rich cultural heritage and diverse traditions. Four Siberian administrative districts, namely Altai, Buryatya, Tuva and Khalassia have predominately Buddhist population. The local Buddhists are followers of Mahayana tradition represented by Tibetian religious schools. Today's center of Buddhism in Russia is the monastery Ivolginski Datsan near Ulan Ude, the capital city of Buryatya. The monastery's rich collection of relics and ancient scriptures attracts thousands of pilgrims and students of Buddhism from Russia and abroad.

 

The outmost eastern point of the Trans-Siberian Railway is the port city of Vladivostok, founded in 1860 as a naval and trade outpost facing the Pacific. Today Vladivostok is a major commercial port connecting Russia with its trade partners via international sea routes. Last year the city successfully hosted the APEC-2012 Summit held in the nearby Russki Island and is set to become the primary trade and connectivity point between Russia and Asia-Pacific. In addition, the new university complex in the Russki Island is to become the primary higher education institution promoting cooperation between Russian and its Asia-Pacific partners through students exchange programs and joint research activities.