Omsk (Russian: Омск, [omsk]) is a city and the administrative center of Omsk Oblast, Russia, located in southwestern Siberia 2,236 kilometers (1,389 mi) from Moscow. With a population of 1,154,116, it is Russia’s second-largest city east of the Ural Mountains after Novosibirsk, and seventh by size nationally.
During the Imperial era, Omsk was the seat of the Governor General of Western Siberia, and later of the Governor General of the Steppes. For a brief period during the Russian Civil War in 1918–1920, it served as the capital of the anti-Bolshevik Russian State and held the imperial gold reserves.
Omsk is the administrative center of the Siberian Cossack Host. It also serves as the see of the bishop of Omsk and Tara, as well as the administrative seat of the Imam of Siberia.
The wooden fort of Omsk was built in 1716 by a cossack unit led by Ivan Buchholz to protect the expanding Russian frontier along the Ishim and the Irtysh rivers against the Kyrgyz and Dzungar nomads of the Steppes. In 1768 Om fortress was relocated. The original Tobolsk and the restored Tara gates, along with the original German Lutheran Church and several public buildings are left from that time. Omsk was granted with the town status in 1782.
In 1822 Omsk became an administrative capital of Western Siberia and later in 1882 the center of the vast Steppes region (today the northern part of Kazakhstan) and Aqmola Oblast in particular acquiring several churches and cathedrals of various denominations, mosques, a synagogue, the governor-general’s mansion, and a military academy. But as the frontier receded and its military importance diminished, the town fell into lethargy. For that time Omsk became a major center of the Siberian exile. During the 1850s Fyodor Dostoyevsky served his sentence in an Omsk katorga prison.
Development of the city was catalyzed with the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway in the 1890s that affected significance of Omsk as a logistic hub. Many trade companies established stores and offices in Omsk defining the character of the city center. British, Dutch, and German consulates were established roughly at the same time in order to represent their commercial interests. The pinnacle of development for pre-revolutionary Omsk was the Siberian Exposition of Agriculture and Industry in 1910. Popularity of the World Fairs contributed to the image of Omsk as “Chicago of Siberia”.
Soon after the October Revolution, anti-Bolshevik White forces seized control of Omsk. The “Provisional All-Russian Government” was established here in 1918, headed by the Arctic explorer and decorated war hero Admiral Kolchak.
Omsk was proclaimed the capital of Russia, and its central bank was tasked with safekeeping the former empire’s gold reserves. These were guarded by a garrison of former Czechoslovakian POWs trapped in Siberia by the chaos of World War I and the subsequent Revolution. Omsk became a prime target for the Red Army leadership viewed it as a major target of their Siberian campaign and eventually forced Kolchak and his government to abandon the city and retreat along the Trans-Siberian eastward to Irkutsk. Bolshevik forces entered the city in 1919.The Soviet government preferred the young Novonikolayevsk (later known as Novosibirsk) as the administrative center of Western Siberia, prompting the mass transfer of administrative, cultural, and educational functions from Omsk. This somewhat stunted the Omsk’s growth and sparked a continuing rivalry between the two cities. Omsk received new life as a result of World War II. Because it was both far from the fighting and had a well-developed infrastructure, Omsk provided a perfect haven for much of the industry evacuated away from the frontlines in 1941. Additionally, contingency plans were made to transfer the provisional Soviet capital to Omsk in the event of a German victory during the Battle of Moscow (October 1941 to January 1942). At the end of the war Omsk remained a major industrial center, and became a leader in Soviet military production.
Military industries which moved to Omsk included part of the OKMO tank-design bureau in 1941, and S.M. Kirov Factory no. 185 from Chelyabinsk, in 1962. The Kirov Factory and Omsk Transmash design bureau (KBTM) produced T-80 tanks from the 1970s, and were responsible for the BTR-T, TOS-1, and the prototype Black Eagle tank. Omsk Transmash declared bankruptcy in 2002.
In the 1950s, following the development of the oil and natural-gas field in Siberia, an oil-refining complex was built, along with an entire “town of oil workers”, expanding Omsk northward along the Irtysh. It is currently the largest such complex in Russia. Gazprom Neft, the parent company, is the largest employer in the city, wielding its tax address as leverage in negotiations with municipal and regional authorities.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Omsk experienced a period of economic instability and political stagnation. Most of the city’s large businesses, which had previously been state owned, were fought over by members of the former party elite, the emerging nouveau riche, and fast growing criminal syndicates. The most notorious cases involved the privatization of Sibneft, a major oil company, which dragged on for several years. Until the end of the 1990s, political life in Omsk was defined by an ongoing feud between the oblast and city authorities. The resulting conflict made at least two points of view available to the public and served as the impetus for some improvements to the city’s infrastructure and cultural life. These included the construction of new leisure parks and the renovation of the city’s historic center, the establishment of the annual Siberian International Marathon, and of the annual City Days Festival. Despite this, internal political competition drained the Omsk’s resources and served as a major obstacle for smooth government operations and city development.