September 01, 2000

Omsk: Siberia's Southern Outpost



s the Trans-Siberian rail line moves southeast, away from Tyumen, the landscape becomes flatter and the rich fields of western Siberia unfold

seemingly without end in the direction of Omsk. At the station of Nazyvaevsk, the border with the now-independent Kazakstan is less than 100 kilometers away. The proximity of Kazak territory, half of whose inhabitants are ethnically non-Russian, is a factor of much significance in understanding the origins of Omsk, now one of Siberia’s largest cities (current population around 1,160,000) and the capital of Omsk Province.

Russian power was first established in Siberia at the end of the 16th century. It was clear from the beginning, however, that this new southern flank was extremely vulnerable to attacks and raids by Central Asian steppe tribes. Yet Russia was beset by more pressing concerns at this time, namely the social chaos and foreign invasions of the “Time of Troubles” and its aftermath. For most of the 17th century, Russia’s rulers had to give primary attention to the consolidation and expansion of the country’s European boundaries. Indeed, this European orientation remained an overwhelming priority for Russia’s first 18th century tsar, the energetic Peter I.


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