Altai Krai

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Altai Krai


part of the RSFSR. Established on Sept. 28, 1937, it is located in the south of Western Siberia in the basin of the upper Ob’ and its headwaters, Biia and Katun’. It encompasses almost all the Altai Mountains, the western slopes of the Salair Ridge, and the adjoining lowlands and foothills known as the Steppe Altai. The krai shares a border with the Mongolian People’s Republic and China on the southeast. It has an area of 261,700 sq km and a population of 2,701,000 (1969). Divided into 63 raions, the krai has nine cities and 29 urban-type settlements. It includes the Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast, and its center is Barnaul.

Natural features. Altai Krai is divided into two unequal parts: the lowland and the mountains. The northwestern part, covering three-fifths of the total area, is the southeastern edge of the West Siberian Lowland. Its major parts are the Kulunda Steppe and the Ob’ River plateau on the left bank of the Ob’ and the foothills and slopes of the Salair Ridge on the right bank. Almost nine-tenths of Altai Krai’s area is irrigated by the Ob’ and its headwaters, the Biia and Katun’. The remaining rivers belong to the closed drainage basin of the Kulunda Steppe. All the big rivers of the lowland are used for commercial traffic and originate in the Altai Mountains. The lowland’s hydrographic network is sparse; the small rivers, originating within the lowland, are shallow with slow currents. The major lakes in the lowland are the Kulunda, Kuchukskoe, and Mikhailovskoe lakes and in the mountains, the Teletskoe.

The climate in the lowland is temperate and sharply continental. The winter is long and cold, with little snow; the summer is hot and often dry. The average temperature in January is −19°C and in July, 18.9°C. The annual precipitation is 250 −350 mm, and there are 122 to 127 days of above-freezing temperature. The climate of the mountainous part is very uneven. The mountains have much more precipitation, up to 1,500 -3,000 mm per year. In the inter-montane basins and valleys, the annual precipitation is 150–200 mm.

SOIL. The krai’s lowland has zones of chernozem. There are large tracts of alkaline soil of the solonets and solon-chak type, especially in the west. The largest area in the mountains consists of different varieties of mountain pod-zolic soils which cover the slopes of the mountains. Only the intermontane basins and the valleys of the big rivers have different types of chernozem.

FLORA. Almost one-third of Altai Krai is covered with forests. The lowland has zones of steppe and wooded steppe. It no longer has steppe vegetation, and a large part of the territory has been cultivated. Pine forests and birch groves have been preserved, and forest bands have been planted in many areas to protect the steppes. The slopes of the mountains are covered with forests of larch, Siberian fir, and Siberian cedar. The vegetation of the valleys and intermontane basins ranges from the semisteppe vegetation of Southeast Altai to the colorful meadows of the foothills. Above the timberline, the mountains are covered with bands of alpine and subalpine meadows and high-mountain tundras.

FAUNA. Rodents are abundant in the steppes. The predatory animals include wolves, foxes, and steppe polecats; birds include steppe larks and snipes, woodcocks, bustards, and steppe eagles. There are waterfowl in the river valleys. The mountains are inhabited by elks, marals, and mountain goats and sheep. The Altai Preserve is located in the southeast.

NATURAL REGIONS. (1) The Kulunda Steppe; (2) the Ob’ River plateau; (3) the Ob’ valley, consisting of the present-day and the ancient valley of the upper Ob’ with wide above-flood and flood terraces; (4) the Biisk-Chumysh wooded steppe; (5) the foothills of the Altai Mountains, a wooded steppe with rolling hills; (6) the foothills of the Salair Ridge, the wooded steppe on the western slope of the Salair; and (7) the Altai Mountains, the highest area of the krai.

Population. The majority of the population is Russian (85 percent); Ukrainians, Byelorussians, and other nationalities also live there. Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast is inhabited by Altais. The average population density is 10.3 inhabitants per sq km. The population density is greatest in the lowland’s wooded steppe and steppe, where the density of the rural population reaches 25–30 inhabitants per sq km in some raions. The lowest population density is in Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast; this part covers one-third of the krai’s territory and contains only 6 percent of the population.

Under Soviet rule, the ratio between the urban and rural populations has changed sharply. The proportion of the urban population rose from 4 percent in 1916 to 45 percent in 1969. Before the October Socialist Revolution, there were only three cities on Altai territory: Barnaul, Biisk, and Slavgorod. New cities have been built under Soviet rule: Kamen’-na-Obi, Rubtsovsk, Novoaltaisk, Gorno-Altaisk, Aleisk, and Zmeinogorsk.

Altai Krai has resorts, including Belokurikha, a spa with radioactive springs in the foothills of the Altai Mountains; Chemal, a mountain resort for tubercular patients; and Lebiazh’e, a health resort.

Economy. Under Soviet power, Altai Krai, which had been a backward agrarian borderland of Russia, has become a region with highly developed industry and large-scale socialist agriculture. It is one of the major grain producers of the USSR.

INDUSTRY. From 1917 to 1967 the gross industrial output increased almost 600 times. Machine building, metalworking, a chemical industry, and a construction materials industry have been created; and light industry and the food industry have been greatly developed. Machine building and metalworking accounts for 37 percent of the total gross industrial output, the food industry for 23 percent, and the textile industry for 12 percent. The power industry of Altai Krai relies on coal from the Kuznetsk Basin and partly on hydroelectric power from the Ust’-Kamenogorsk (in the Kazakh SSR) and Novosibirsk hydroelectric power plants. Most of the machine building and metalworking enterprises are located in Barnaul, Rubtsovsk, Novoaltaisk, and Slavgorod; they produce tractors and tractor electrical equipment and spare parts, farm machines, engines, motors, boilers, main-line railroad cars, electric furnaces, forging and pressing equipment, geological prospecting equipment, instruments, radio equipment, and other items. Mining products include nonmetallic construction materials such as stone, raw material for cement, lime, sandstone and gravel mix, and sand, as well as gold, mercury, nonferrous and rare metals, and semiprecious stones. The extraction of common salt, Glauber’s salt, and sodium bicarbonate from the lakes of the Kulunda Steppe is of great importance; the Slavgorod chemical plant, the Kuchukskii sulfate plant, the Mikhailovskii soda combine, and the Burlinskii salt extraction enterprise are located in this area. Large-scale construction of chemical enterprises, including a synthetic fiber plant and a rubber and asbestos combine, has been under way since 1969. These enterprises are already partly in operation. Once they operate at full capacity, the role of the chemical industry will increase.

The lumber reserves amount to 745 million cu m (in 1967). Timber, procured from the western slopes of the Salair Ridge, the northeastern Altai foothills, and partly from the pine forests on the right bank of the Ob’, is floated along the river to railroad stations in Barnaul, Biisk, and Tal’menka. At certain places, sawmills have been set up and the production of matches, plywood, and furniture organized. In 1967 a total of 3.9 million cu m of timber was shipped out of the krai. Oleoresin is also gathered, and pine oil, turpentine oil, turpentine, and resin made from it. The most developed branches of the textile industry are the production of cotton fabrics, knitted goods, hosiery, socks, and synthetic fiber goods (primarily in Barnaul). A flax spinning and weaving factory has been built in Biisk, and flax and hemp plants have been built in several places. The krai is developing the production of leather goods and footwear, sheepskin clothing, felt boots, and fur articles. The most outstanding enterprises of the food industry are the meat combines in Biisk, Rubtsovsk, Aleisk, and other cities. Large quantities of butter and cheese are produced in the wooded steppe and foothills, the major meat and dairy livestock regions. The krai holds the RSFSR’s first place in the production of butter and the USSR’s first place in the production of cheese.

AGRICULTURE. Altai Krai is the chief agricultural region of Siberia and one of the country’s leaders in developing virgin and fallow lands between 1954 and 1960. In 1968 the krai had 319 kolkhozes and 312 sovkhozes. Agricultural lands cover 12.4 million hectares (ha), of which 61.5 percent is cultivated; 11.5 percent is for hay, and 27 percent is for pastures. Between 1928 and 1968 the planted areas increased 2.3 times. At the same time, there have been qualitative changes in their structure. The cultivated areas cover 7.1 million ha and are planted mainly with wheat (4.3 million ha) and fodder crops (1.5 million ha). The growing of maize for silo and green fodder, oats, millet, and buckwheat is of great importance. The major industrial crops are sugar beets (67,000 ha), sunflowers (72,000 ha), short- and long-stemmed flax, and hemp. Altai Krai has become an important region for sugar beet farming with four operating sugar refineries. Legumes, melons, and potatoes cover 115,000 ha. Between 1913 and 1967 the gross harvest of grain crops increased 4.7 times; wheat increased 6.9 times. There has also been a great development of livestock raising. Breeding of beef and dairy cattle is found almost everywhere; sheep raising for meat and wool is centered in the Kulunda Steppe and the Gorno-Altai area. Between 1916 and 1967 productive livestock increased as follows: cattle, from 1.44 million to 2.06 million head; pigs, from 339,000 to 727,000 head; and sheep and goats from 1.253 million to 2.770 million head. The proportion of fine and semifine wool in the total wool output rose from 41 percent in 1953 to 83 percent in 1967. Fur farming and beekeeping occupy a considerable place in the krai’s economy, especially in the region of wooded foothills. The Gorno-Altai area is noted for the hunting of squirrels, foxes, muskrats, and sable and for the breeding of spotted and maral deer.

TRANSPORTATION. The Krai has a diverse transportation system, which is particularly well developed in the lowland region. With 1,710 km of railway, the railroad’s main lines are Novosibirsk-Barnaul-Rubtsovsk-Semipalatinsk with a branch to Biisk; Artyshta-Barnaul-Kulunda-Pavlodar; Tatarsk-Kulunda-Malinovoe Ozero; and Altaiskaia -Kamen’-na-Obi-Karasuk-Karbyshevo. The Barnaul-Cherepanovo (156 km) and Altaiskaia-Artyshta sections (205 km) are electrified. The Ob’ and some of its tributaries are navigable for a total of 1,500 km. The major highways, totaling 31,800 km, are the Novosibirsk-Barnaul highway and the Chuia highway, which runs from Biisk through the Gorno-Altai region into the Mongolian People’s Republic.

INTERNAL DIFFERENCES. (1) The Cis-Altai wooded steppe is the most densely populated part of the krai and contains most of the industrial centers—Barnaul, Biisk, Novoaltaisk, and Rubtsovsk. It is the major grain farming, livestock raising, and suburban agricultural area. (2) The Kulunda Steppe has large-scale farming—mainly wheat—beef and dairy cattle breeding, butter production, fine-wool sheep raising, sunflower farming, chemical and food industries, and the extraction and processing of salt from lakes. (3) The Gorno-Altai Autonomous Oblast has livestock raising, some farming, hunting, fur farming, mining, and raising of deer for the medicinal value of their antlers.


Education, cultural affairs, and public health. In the 1968–69 academic year, the krai had 2,896 general education schools of all types with more than 626,000 pupils, 65 vocational and technical schools with 31,500 students, 44 specialized secondary educational institutions with 48,000 students, and six higher educational institutions (polytechnical, medical, pedagogical, and agricultural institutes in Barnaul and pedagogical institutes in Biisk and Gorno-Altaisk) with 28,800 students. In 1968 about 72,000 children attended 892 preschool institutions. In 1968, Altai Krai had 1,319 libraries with more than 14 million books and magazines, five museums (museums of local lore in Barnaul, Biisk, Gorno-Altaisk, and Kamen’-na-Obi and a museum of fine and applied arts in Barnaul), six theaters, 1,799 clubs, 2,600 motion picture installations, and 63 extrascholastic institutions.

The krai newspapers are Altaiskaia pravda, founded in 1917, and Molodezh Altaia, founded in 1920. The krai’s television and radio broadcast one television and two radio programs and relay programs from Moscow and Novosibirsk. The television stations are located in Barnaul and Biisk. As of Jan. 1, 1967, Altai Krai had 4,005 doctors (one doctor per 687 inhabitants) and 26,400 hospital beds (96.1 beds per 10,000 inhabitants).


Pomus, M. I. Zapadnaia Sibir’. Moscow, 1956.
Zapadno-Sibirskii ekonomicheskii raion. Moscow, 1967.
Narodnoe khoziaistvo Altaiskovo kraia za 50 let Sovetskoi vlasti. Barnaul, 1967.
Literatura ob Altaiskom krae. Barnaul, 1968. Bibliographical index.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.