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Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

Distribution and Density

Because so much of its territory is poorly suited for human habitation, the Soviet Union on the whole is a sparsely populated country. In 1987 it registered an average density of twelve inhabitants per square kilometer. The density varied greatly by region, however (see fig. 9). In the mid-1980s, the density of the European portion of the Soviet Union was thirty-four inhabitants per square kilometer, about the same as in the American South. The republics with the greatest population density were the Moldavian, Armenian, and Ukrainian republics (see table 12, Appendix A).

Moskovskaya Oblast, largely because of its historical, cultural, and political significance and the presence in it of the Moscow urban metropolitan area, was one of the country's most thickly settled oblasts. Despite attempts to limit the capital's growth, Moscow continued to attract numerous migrants each year. The entire region between the Volga and Oka rivers had a high concentration of settlements. The most sparsely populated regions of the country have persistently been in the Far North, which is considerably more sparsely settled than Alaska.

The "center of gravity" of the population is gradually moving in a southeasterly direction and in the mid-1980s was located west of the Urals just below the city of Kuybyshev. The main belt of settlement forms a wedge whose base is a line going from Leningrad to the Moldavian Republic. In the European part of the Soviet Union, its northern boundary runs through the cities of Cherepovets, Vologda, and Perm'; the southern arm passes through Kherson, Rostov-na-Donu, Volgograd, and Chelyabinsk. Significant concentrations of population outside this wedge were found in the Caucasus and in Central Asia. The roughly 10 percent of the population in Siberia was concentrated in a rather narrow belt surrounding the two major transportation arteries of the Trans-Siberian Railway (see Glossary) and the Baykal-Amur Main Line ( BAM--see Glossary) and in the energy-producing region of western Siberia. Future population growth and settlement in Siberia and the Soviet Far East for the most part was expected to take place in the environs of the BAM.

The rural population was also concentrated in the southern and central sections of the European part. Densities of more than 100 persons per square kilometer were found in the Dnestr River Valley and in several parts of the Ukrainian Republic, the Soviet Union's traditional breadbasket. Rural population density tapered off in the taiga zone and sharply diminished in the tundra of the European north. The arid steppes and semideserts in the southeast European part were lightly settled.

Starting in the 1970s, an active campaign was mounted to reduce and consolidate the number of rural populated places in the Soviet Union. The number of rural places in the nonchernozem region of the Russian Republic alone declined from 180,000 to 118,000 between 1959 to 1979. Nationally, a reasonable estimate of the numbers of phased-out ("future-less settlements" in Russian) populated places, most with fewer than 200 inhabitants, was more than 100,000.

The ninth, tenth, and eleventh five-year plans (1971-85) provided for stimulating further economic development and settlement in Siberia and the Soviet Far East. Under Gorbachev, reports indicated a possible change in emphasis to stress modernization and intensification of production by using existing capacity in the European portion.

Data as of May 1989