[FOUNTAIN]Russian rails bring us wealth

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[FOUNTAIN]Russian rails bring us wealth

On Dec. 25, Russia announced the completion of the electrification of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The project took 72 years to finish. Russian authorities have announced that the second phase of the railroad development project was complete and that they would begin working on the third phase, the connection of the railroad with rail lines on the Korean Peninsula.

The Siberian railroad project is closely connected with Russia's advance toward the east. The Siberian region that the railroad traverses comprises about one-fourth of the Asian continent, and is abundant in natural resources like coal, oil, nickel and bronze. It is also a strategically important area.

Siberia has been home to many Asian tribes and kingdoms -- the Huns of about 2,000 years ago, followed by the Turk empire in the 6th century, the Mongols in the 13th century and the Khanate of Sibir in the 16th century. Siberia also holds a special place in the hearts of Koreans as the land of Balhae, a kingdom of ethnic Koreans in eastern Siberia.

The first Westerners came to Siberia in the 16th century. At the time, Russia used its merchants and Cossacks to expand its rule over the territory at a rate of about 40 kilometers per day. The Siberian Khanate finally yielded to the Russians in 1598. The most famous of the Russian merchants who became wealthy during the Siberian expeditions were the Stroganoffs.

By the 17th century, the Russian tsars realized the strategic importance of Siberia and sent expeditions to learn more about the region. As a result, the Tyumen region was developed as oil fields and towns began to form around strategic points and resource-rich areas such as Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk and Yakutsk. In 1891, construction of the Siberian railroad was started as an effort to further Siberia's economic development and Russia's hold over the region. Ever since, Russia has been developing the Siberian railroad.

The Russian government sees the project of connecting the Siberian railroad and the Korean railroads as one of its top-priority state projects in the 21st century. After the tension over the North Korean nuclear program is resolved, Korea should concentrate on Siberia and this project as part of its plan to rise as a leader in Northeast Asia. In this context, it is commendable that the Korea Research Foundation has recently formed a Russia project team and has started serious research on the Siberian region.

By Kim Seok-hwan

The writer is a JoongAng Ilbo editorial writer.

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