(author's note: the geographic information in this article is based on pre-1991 sources, and may not be accurate for the current Russian Federation)
The Soviet Union consists of a landmass slightly less than 2 ½ times that of the United States. It is the world's largest country, occupying the major portions of Europe and Asia. Most of this immense country still lies undisturbed and uninhabited. 70% of all Soviet citizens live in the temperate western most area, the European part, centered around the Soviet capital of Moscow. This disproportionate ratio of population to land area poses a significant problem. In the post-Stalin era, the eventual depletion of the petroleum, natural gas and coal deposits of European Russia and the utilization of many of its best hydropower sites made the transformation of the energy base to the Asian east area an imperative. This area contains approximately 90% of the national energy resources, while Lake Baikal, at more than a mile deep, contains 1/5 of the worlds fresh water. Despite considerable attempts to settle people east of the Ural Mountains in fuel and water rich Siberia, this imbalance persists. To truly open Siberia to development, an adequate method of transporting men and material had to be constructed. The main transportation artery was the already overburdened Trans-Siberian Railway, and air transport into this remote area was to expensive. Ship transport was used, however it can only take place in the short season of ice-free arctic waters. Under Leonid Brezhnev, the Politburo took several key decisions to try to establish permanent, inexpensive access to Soviet Siberia. Investment in a second Trans-Siberian Railroad, the Baikul-Amur Main Line (Baykalo-Amurskaya Magistral' or BAM), was described by Moscow as "the construction project of the century". It would be constructed farther North of the existing Trans-Siberian Railway and run 3200 kilometers ( 1988 miles ) to the Pacific Basin which is located on the Soviet east coast. It is here that economic ties with other countries can ensure the transport of oil, gas, iron ore, coal, copper, gold, diamonds and timber from within Siberia.
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