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former oblast (region), far eastern Russia; in 2008 it merged with Agin-Buryat autonomous okrug (district) to form Zabaykalsky kray (territory). The region is centred on Chita city. Its terrain is marked with a complex series of mountain ranges (principally the Yablonovo), plateaus, valleys, and broad basins. Most of the region is in coniferous forest, chiefly of Dahurian larch; in southern depressions there is forest-steppe and steppe vegetation. The climate is dry and severely continental. Apart from the Buryat peoples there are a few Evenk, but the bulk of the population consists of Russians who settled the area in the mid-17th century. In 1654 Nerchinsk was founded as a major trading centre with China. After the 1689 Treaty of Nerchinsk, which halted the Russian advance down the Amur River, the Chita region remained a frontier area and a place of exile and penal labour for criminals and political prisoners in the silver mines east of Nerchinsk. There was little free settlement until the coming of the Trans-Siberian Railroad in the 1890s. The railway remains the main axis of communication. Today mining and primary-ore processing dominate the economy and include gold (at Baley), tin, tungsten, molybdenum, lead, zinc, fluorspar, lithium, tantalum, and some lignite (brown coal). Timber working is widespread. Petrovsk-Zabaykalsky is a metallurgical centre of regional significance. Agriculture, despite much new plowing in the 1950s, is poorly developed, and livestock raising, especially of sheep, is dominant. Fox and squirrel furs are produced on fur farms. Area 159,300 square miles (412,500 square km). Pop. (2006 est.) 1,128,238.