Northwestern Economic Region

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Northwestern Economic Region


a major economic region of the USSR, embracing the entire northern part of the European USSR. The Northwestern Economic Region is bounded in the north by the Barents, White, and Kara seas and in the southwest by the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. It includes Leningrad, Novgorod, Pskov, Vologda, Arkhangel’sk, and Murmansk oblasts, the Karelian ASSR, and the Komi ASSR. Area, 1,662,800 sq km, or 7.4 percent of the total land area of the USSR. Population, 12.7 million (1975), or 5 percent of the total population of the USSR.

The Northwestern Economic Region has a population density of 7.7 per sq km. The highest population density is in Leningrad Oblast (including the city of Leningrad), 67.6 per sq km, and in Novgorod and Pskov oblasts, 13–16 per sq km. Russians live in all areas, and Karelians, Komi, Nentsi, and Lapps in the north. The proportion of the urban population is 77.4 percent (1975). The region has 115 cities and 235 urban-type settlements, including Leningrad, the second largest and second most important city of the USSR, with a population of 4.3 million (including the urban settlements under the jurisdiction of the Leningrad Soviet). Nine cities have a population of 150,000–400,000, namely, Arkhangel’sk, Murmansk, Cherepovets, Vologda, Petrozavodsk, Severodvinsk, Novgorod, Pskov, and Syktyvkar.

Physically, the region is essentially a plain. The Northern Urals and Polar Urals are in the extreme east of the region, the Valdai Hills in the southwest, the Timan Ridge and the Severnye Uvaly in the east, and the uplands of the Kola Peninsula in the northwest, notably the Khibiny and the Lovozerskie Tun-dry. The climate is moderately continental, with a warm, wet summer and a severe, snowy winter. It becomes more continental toward the northeast.

In the west are the large lakes of Ladoga, Onega, Beloe, and Il’men’, which are joined by rivers, such as the Neva, Svir’, Volkhov, and Vuoksa. These water routes not only connect the central regions of the European USSR with each other but also join the regions with Western Europe. In the Soviet period they have been fully modernized, and new locks and canals now lead to the White Sea (the Baltic-White Sea Canal) and the Volga River (the Volga-Baltic Waterway). Large, navigable rivers, such as the Pechora, Severnaia Dvina, Mezen’, and Onega, flow through the eastern part of the region.

Much of the region lies in the forest zone, and a small part in the tundra zone of the far north.

The Northwestern Economic Region has varied and significant resources. Its forests account for one-tenth of the USSR’s timber reserves and 60 percent of the European USSR’s forest reserves. Its deposits of apatite ores and phosphorites make up about 40 percent of the USSR’s commercial reserves of phosphate raw materials. The region also has coal, petroleum and natural gas, nickel-copper and iron ores, and micas.

The advantages of the region’s geographic position derive from its outlet to the three Atlantic seas and from its proximity to the Central, Volga-Viatka, and Ural economic regions. The region’s seaports, such as Leningrad, Murmansk, Arkhangel’sk, Vyborg, and Belomorsk, have given its economy a great impetus toward growth, have helped open up its resources, especially those destined for export, and have helped to develop manufacturing centers based on imported raw materials.

The Northwestern Economic Region has specialized in highly skilled, complex, and precision machine-building, in shipbuilding, in the lumber, pulp-paper, and wood-products industries, and in nonferrous metallurgy, the chemical industry, certain sectors of light industry, the fishing industry, dairying, and flax growing. Its oil and gas industry is of recent origin. The region is noted for its importance in scientific and technical progress and for the training of highly skilled cadres. The tourist and excursion industry is growing rapidly, attaining an all-Union and international significance—as at Leningrad, Novgorod, Pskov, and the Solovetskie Islands.

In terms of specific industrial structure, machine building and metalworking account for 30.1 percent of the region’s industrial production. The lumber, pulp-paper, and wood-products industries account for 13 percent, light industry for 13.2 percent, and food processing for 18 percent. Also important are the chemical industry, ferrous and nonferrous metallurgy, the fuel-extraction industry, and the electric power industry.

The Northwestern Economic Region is unevenly developed geographically. The southwestern part—Leningrad, Pskov, and Novgorod oblasts—is more advanced, with 62 percent of the region’s industry, 61 percent of the agricultural production, and about 60 percent of the population. Before the October Revolution of 1917 the capital—Petrograd, a major industrial, scientific, and cultural center—was located here. In the Soviet period, a skilled local labor force and skilled scientific and technical cadres have given rise to the country’s second-largest manufacturing base, second only to that of the Central Region. This manufacturing industry accounts for 8 percent of the USSR’s production of machines and about 90 percent of the region’s production of machines. Shipbuilding is a major industrial sector, producing nuclear-powered icebreakers, passenger steamers, tankers, refrigerator ships, lumber ships, fishing craft, and river boats. Power machine building and electrotechnical machine building account for nearly one-half of the steam and hydraulic turbines and generators produced in the USSR and 10–20 percent of the various types of electric motors. The region produces more than 10 percent of the USSR’s scientific and industrial instruments. The production of machine tools, the assembly of tractors and railroad cars, and the production of various kinds of equipment are also of significance in the region. The machine-building production associations of Leningrad cooperate extensively with enterprises in Gatchina, Lomono-sov, Vyborg, Tikhvin, Kirovsk, Pskov, Velikie Luki, Novgorod, Chudovo, and other cities.

The great demand for metal by Leningrad enterprises is met by deliveries from other regions and by small-scale metallurgy at the large machine-building plants. The large Cherepovets Metallurgical Plant was built after the war.

The Northwestern Economic Region is a major supplier of lumber for the country. It produces about 100 million cu m, or one-fourth of the country’s felled timber; it produces 16 percent of the lumber, 47 percent of the pulp, 35 percent of the paper, and 24 percent of the cardboard. Major lumber-processing centers include Arkhangel’sk, Kotlas, Syktyvkar, Kondopoga, Segezha, Belomorsk, Kem’, Sortavala, Sokol, and Svetogorsk. Petrozavodsk, Arkhangel’sk, and Vologda have plants that produce machinery and equipment for the logging and wood-products industries.

The region is the USSR’s second-largest producer of chemicals, second only to the Central Region. Leningrad enterprises produce rubber and rubber goods, plastics, synthetics, varnishes and paints, and pharmaceuticals. The mining-chemical industry in Murmansk Oblast produces more than 13 million tons of apatite concentrate, which is then shipped to most of the country’s superphosphate plants or exported (more than 6 million tons). Mineral fertilizers are produced in Leningrad, Novgorod, Volkhov, Kingisepp, and Cherepovets.

Nonferrous metallurgy is also important to the region’s economy. The Severnaia Onega Bauxite Mine and the Pikalevo and Boksitogorsk alumina plants produce aluminum raw materials. There are aluminum plants in Volkhov, Nadvoitsy, and Kandalaksha. Copper-nickel ores are mined, and concentrates are produced, and nickel is smelted, for example, in Nikel’, Zapo-liarnyi, and Monchegorsk.

The region’s energy development has made use of both imported fuel and local resources, such as peat, shales (from a part of the Baltic Shale Basin), oil and natural gas (the Timan-Pechora Oil and Gas Basin), coal (the Pechora Coal Basin), and hydropower resources. Owing to insufficient local fuel and energy resources, nuclear power plants have been built in Murmansk and Leningrad, in the western part of the region. In 1974 the region generated 47.4 billion kilowatt-hours of electric power and produced 11.4 million tons of oil (including gas condensate), more than 18 billion cu m of natural gas, 23.4 million tons of coal, and 1.8 million tons of peat.

Agriculturally, the Northwestern Economic Region is noted for its dairy farming and dairy-meat husbandry and for its vegetables, potatoes, and flax. It has 7.8 million hectares (ha) of agricultural land (4.7 percent of its total land area), including 3.3 million ha in cultivated land, 2.6 million ha in hayfields, and 1.8 million ha in pastures. Meat, milk, eggs, and vegetables are produced on an industrial basis, for example, at large livestock-fattening complexes and at large poultry farms. In the north, in Arkhangel’sk and Murmansk oblasts and the Komi ASSR, reindeer are of some economic importance. Cage fur farming is a highly profitable sector.

In 1974 the region had 11,800 km of railroads, including 1,700 km of electrified track. It had 21,000 km of waterways in use and 32,900 km of paved roads. It also had 3,200 km of trunk gas pipelines, including the Northern Lights Gas Pipeline (Ukhta-Yaroslavl-Torzhok). The Usinsk-Ukhta-Yaroslavl-Moscow petroleum pipeline has also been built. New means of transportation are being constructed on a large scale, for example, the Arkhangel’sk-Karpogory, Ertom-Koslan-Mikun’, Sy-nia-Usinsk, and Sosnogorsk-Troitsko-Pechorsk railroad lines and the Murmansk-Leningrad, Arkhangel’sk-Vologda, and Volodga-Novaia Ladoga highways.

In interregional trade, the Northwestern Economic Region exports machinery, various types of equipment, instruments, timber and wood products, natural gas, light-industry products, and fish products; it imports coal, oil, metals, and grain and other foodstuffs.


Rossiiskaia Federatsiia: Obshchii obzor i Evropeiskii Sever. Moscow, 1972. (In the Sovetskii Soiuz series.)
Severo-Zapad RSFSR: Ekonomiko-geograficheskaia kharaklerislika. Moscow, 1964.
Al’tman, L. P. “Ekonomicheskie raiony Severo-Zapada SSSR i osnovnye problemy ikh razvitiia.” In the collection Severo-Zapad Evropeis-koichasti SSSR. [Leningrad] 1963.
Razvitie i razmeshchenie proizvoditel’nykh sil SSSR: Severo-Zapadnyi ekonomicheskii raion. Moscow, 1967.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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