Russia's East Siberia: from Gulag to oil frontier

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VANKOR FIELD, Russia (Reuters) - Half a century ago, Josef Stalin banished his foes to labor camps in East Siberia. Now volunteers are lining up to drill the frozen wastelands for their vast reserves of oil.

A 130-strong team of drillers, hardened frontiersmen who live in barracks set in sparse fir forests, have so far drilled 12 exploration wells.

They are helping fulfill President Vladimir Putin's strategy to wean Russia of its dependence European markets. Vankor's oil will go east, via a new pipeline being built to China and the Pacific.

Set in the frozen tundra, the Vankor field has recoverable reserves of 2.5 billion barrels, enough to supply booming Asian markets for decades to come.

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