"The joining of Siberia is the most important, happiest and greatest event in the history of Russia, after the overthrow of the Tatar yoke and the reforms of Peter the Great." (V.G. Rasputin)
Since olden times, the Russian people discovered new lands and rendered them habitable. It's useful to remember that ten centuries ago the modern center of Russia was a sparsely populated remote area of the ancient Russian state and only in the sixteenth century the Russian people started settling in the territory of the modern Volga Region. More than four centuries ago the development of Siberian lands began and opened one of the most interesting and thrilling pages in the history of Russian colonization.
Undoubtedly, the joining of Siberia to the Russian state is connected with the name of Cossack ottoman Ermak Timofeevich. Four centuries ago his army conquered the aggressive Siberian khanate that was one of the last fragments of the Golden Horde. The last Mongolian tsar Kuchum was defeated. This event laid the basis for Asiatic Russia and became the starting point for Russian settlement in Siberia.
Unfortunately, there isn't any reliable information on Ermak Timofeevich that could help to compile his biography. But undoubtedly, there isn't any other personality among Russian folk heroes that could be more popular than the victor of the Siberian khanate. An infinite number of songs, legends, historical novels, narratives and plays are composed about him.
It's well known that Ermak Timofeevich was a professional warrior; an experienced military leader, he defended the Southern frontiers of Russia for twenty years and headed the troops sent to the Dikoe Pole ("Wild Field") for repulsion of the Tatar raids. During the Levonskaya War (1558-1583) he was one of the most famous Cossack commanders.
Ermak had indisputable authority over the Cossacks and possessed all the virtues of a leader. In 1579 or 1581 (exact date of the campaign's beginning is unascertained), Ermak began his military campaign against the Siberian khanate. The Ural merchants the Stroganovs sponsored this expedition. The Stroganovs were salt manufacturers and rich merchants. Owing to their salt mines and profitable trade with the local tribes of Siberia, they grew rich quickly.
In 1568 Ivan the Terrible gave the Stroganovs the patent on unreclaimed lands of Siberia. The Stroganovs' army subdued the local Siberian tribes and battled against the Siberian khan Kuchum. The local tribes were displeased by impudent robberies inflicted by the Stroganovs' army and quite often excited rebellion against the Stroganovs' authority. To strengthen their power in Siberia, the Stroganovs asked Ivan the Terrible to permit them to recruit Cossacks for conquering the revolting local tribes. But the tsar didn't answered them because at that time the Livonskaya war started and the main armed forces of the state were concentrated on the western frontiers. So, the Stroganovs were left on their own.
In 1581 they started recruiting people for the military campaign against the Siberian khanate and in the upshot could recruit only 540 people. Maxim Stroganov called to the Urals the famous commanders Ermak Timofeevich and Ivan Koltso to take part in this campaign. The Stroganovs completely sponsored the expedition by supplying it with food, arms and gunpowder. Having accepted the offer of Maxim Stroganov, Ermak Timofeevich, Ivan Koltso and their Cossacks started building boats. Later on Ermak's detachment waged war on boats whereas the troops of Kuchum could battle only on land, as their main force was cavalry. Using boats in battles, Ermak's army possessed a great advantage over the enemy.
So, on September 1, 1581 Ermak's army started moving forward through the taiga to the capital of the Siberian khanate Isker. Khan Kuchum was informed of this and in his turn began recruiting warriors and fortifying the town of Isker. He was able to recruit people from the local tribes and as a result the Tatar army considerably outnumbered the detachment of Ermak. But numerical superiority couldn't help khan Kuchum to win a victory over the Russians. Under the command of experienced and skillful leaders, the well-armed Russian army captured Isker, the capital of the Siberian khanate.
Under unfavorable conditions of carrying on the campaign in enemy territory, Ermak Timofeevich showed his worth not only as a forward-looking commander but also as a talented diplomat. He could make friends with princes of the local tribes and owing to their support the Russian army enlarged in number from 540 to 1650 people.
The Russians gained victory over the Tatars owing to skillful command, efficient organization of troops, strict discipline and successful military tactics. Moreover, Ermak chose advantageous times for the campaign when the military forces of khan Kuchum were scattered. Just on the eve of the expedition, Kuchum sent his elder son Alley with the best troops to the Permian Territory. And, at last, the rear of khan Kuchum was rather unstable because the local tribes, fishermen and hunters refused to wage war with the Russians.
Having captured the capital of the Siberian khanate, the Cossacks had to think over the future government of the conquered territory. Being in power, they decided to rule in the name of the tsar and imposed taxes upon the local inhabitants of Siberia. They clearly understood that they couldn't retain their power without the military support of the state. In 1583 the Cossacks sent messengers to Moscow to inform the tsar of the conquest of Siberia and asked him for help. Ivan the Terrible appreciated deeply the importance of this event and ordered Commander Balchovsky be sent with his troops to help Ermak. But unfortunately, in 1584 sudden changes happened in Moscow and hindered the realization of this decision. Tsar Ivan the Terrible died and in total disarray everybody forgot about the Siberian expedition for a certain time. Only in two years the Cossacks got help and encouragement from Moscow. The Cossacks were able to retain their power in Siberia thanks to support from the local Siberian tribes and the internal instability of the Siberian khanate.
The first Siberian expedition lasted for three years. Incredible hardships - starvation, terrible frosts, battles and losses - nothing could crush the Cossacks' will to victory. Until one day, when, in one of the battles Ermak was killed, the sole event that could put an end to the expedition.
Doubtlessly, the joining of Siberia to the Russian state was an event of great historical importance. Shortly thereafter, migrants from Russia started settling in Siberia. One of their first tasks was clearing unreclaimed Siberian lands and creating plowed fields. Struggling with the inhospitable climate, they founded new towns and settlements, and arranged arable lands.
Owing to the joining of Siberia, Russia gained access to countless number of treasures of the soil that afterwards supplied the entire country. Beyond the Urals the deposits of kitchen salt, non-ferrous metal, silver and precious stones were found, all in great measure due to the efforts of Ermak Timofeevich.