Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East

Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East

Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East

Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East


In 1581 a Cossack raider crossed the Ural Mountains to plunder and claim for Tsar Ivan IV the land called "Sibir" by its Tatar inhabitants. Within half a century, Moscow's reach would extend nearly six thousand miles to the east. Thus Russia has a long history as part of Asia. Does it have a future there as well? Rediscovering Russia in Asia takes the reader on a trans-Siberian expedition to encounter the peoples, cultures, and riches of Russia's eastern expanses. The expert guides are scholars with the language skills and the sense of adventure to explore a "crossroads of civilizations" at long last reopened to the world.


Stephen Kotkin

In 1581, the Russian raider Yermak Timofeev crossed the Ural Mountains, plundering and claiming for the tsar the land called Sibir (Siberia) by its Tatar inhabitants. Within fifty-odd years another adventurer, Ivan Moskvitin, reached the Sea of Okhotsk by overland route, advancing Russia's claims (and the coverage of the term Siberia) well beyond the Tatar boundaries to a distance of almost 6,000 miles from Moscow. In the interval, Russians built a series of forts in these newly "discovered" eastern territories, subjugating or decimating scores of native peoples along the way. By the 1720s, when Peter the Great commissioned the Dane Vitus Bering to explore the straits leading to yet another continent, Russia was on the Pacific to stay.

Despite official sponsorship of Bering's voyages, the Russian push from the Urals to the Pacific, and then briefly across the Pacific to America, was not primarily a state-sponsored endeavor. Rather, it was carried out by conquistadors, enterprising local administrators, and to a lesser extent, merchants and scholars. Preoccupied with events in Europe and the Near East, successive tsarist governments showed only intermittent interest in their eastern territories until the second half of the nineteenth century. By that time, however, what had begun as predominately an individually driven pursuit of lucre and renown had evolved into an officially encouraged colonization effort and a web of new strategic relationships with China, Manchuria, Mongolia, Korea, and a rising power, Japan.

During the twentieth century, these strategic relationships have been intensified by the industrial-development schemes launched in the Russian east by the Soviet regime; by the imperial ambitions aggressively pursued by Japan on the Asian mainland, leading to the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) and subsequent border clashes throughout the 1930s; by another Russo-Japanese war in August 1945; by the Chinese Communist revolution of 1949, a short-lived Sino-Soviet alliance, and the Sino-Soviet rift; by the division of Korea and the Korean War . . .

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