Magadan Oblast

Magadan Oblast
   An administrative region of the Russian Federation. Magadan occupies an area historically known as Kolyma, situated in extreme northwestern Asia on the Sea of Okhotsk. The oblast borders Kamchatka Krai, Chukotka, Sakha, and Khabarovsk Krai (until 2007, the oblast also shared a border with Koryakiya Autonomous Okrug until it was subsumed by the newly created Kamchatka Krai). Magadan is part of the Far Eastern Federal District and Economic Region. At 461,400 square kilometers, Magadan is Russia’s fourth-largest oblast and 11th-largest federal subject. However, with fewer than 200,000 inhabitants, it is Russia’s smallest oblast in terms of population.
   The vast majority (92 percent) of Magadan residents live in urban areas; in the decade after Russia’s independence, this trend was increased by a rapid decline in the number of rural settlements in the oblast. Ethnic Russians make up 80 percent of the population, a rather low number for an oblast. Ethnic minorities include Ukrainians (10 percent), Evens (1.4 percent), Belarusians (1.2 percent), and Tatars (1.1 percent). Indigenous populations of Koryaks, Itelmen, and Sakha are also located within the region.
   Geographically, the region is defined by mountainous tundra and taiga, though it turns to swamps and bogs near the coast; the major river is the Kolyma, which flows northward to the Arctic Ocean, providing significant hydroelectric power to the region. The regional economy is centered on mining (gold, silver, tin, tungsten, mercury, copper, antimony, and coal) and fishing, particularly for export. Gold mining was long conducted by prisoners of the gulags (under Joseph Stalin, nearly 1 million were exiled to the Kolyma basin) and continues to be conducted under the auspices of the state; however, a significant number of local residents illegally mine for the precious metal as well. Exploitation of oil and natural gas reserves is expected in the near future. Agriculture is underdeveloped in the region. Since 1999, the region has functioned as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) for export, although the law only explicitly applies to the city of Magadan. Valentin Tsvetkov, a gold-mine proprietor, became the regional governor in 1996; he was backed by the Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia, a leftist-nationalist coalition chaired by Gennady Zyuganov. In 2000, Tsvetkov, nicknamed “the Bulldozer” for his ham-handed tactics, defeated Duma deputy Vladimir Butkeyev with 70 percent of the votes cast. On 18 October 2002, the governor was gunned down in the Arbat district of Moscow.
   Crime and corruption are traditionally higher in Far Eastern territories, including Magadan; the Japanese yakuza are reported to have connections with local mafia in smuggling of fish and precious metals. In the wake of Tsvetkov’s assassination, numerous federal cases were opened against members of his administration. In 2003, Nikolay Dudov, then acting governor, was elected to head the region for a five-year term, defeating the mayor of Magadan. A member of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, Dudov was reappointed by Vladimir Putin in 2008.
   Economically, the region has stagnated in recent years, seeing limited growth in foreign investment and enjoying little in the way of socioeconomic development. Magadan suffers from some of the highest unemployment, alcoholism, and suicide rates in the country. Due to its remote location, the region has one of the highest costs of living in Russia. Since the end of Soviet subsidies, Magadan has come to be colloquially referred to as an “island,” cut off from the rest of Russia by prohibitively high transportation costs, which also translates into expensive goods. According to local estimates, more than half of the population has incomes below the minimum subsistence level.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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