Russia is one of the older known sources of diamonds; since 1829 deposits have been exploited in Ural Mountains, which form the dividing line between Europe and Asia. Not long after the end of the Second World War, Madame Molotov, the wife of the Soviet Foreign Minister, gave Mrs Churchill, as she then was, a ring set with a diamond found in the Urals and cut in Russia. A note was added on which ran, 'May relations between our two countries be as bright, pure, and lasting as this stone.'
A leading Soviet geologist, Vladimir Sobolev, predicted in 1937 that diamonds would be discovered elsewhere in the country, namely in the region of Yakutiya, which lies close to the Arctic Circle. He asserted that there was a distinct similarity between the geology of this area and that of the diamondiferous plateaux of central and southern Africa.
Dr Sobolev believed the primary deposits would be found between Lake Baikhal and the Arctic Sea, more than 1600 km east of Moscow. The war put an end to exploration but upon resumption of a few alluvial deposits were located in 1948. The important step was to discover the primary source, a feat which was duly accomplished in a surprising manner six years later. A woman geologist, Larissa Popugayeva, was walking through the snow-covered forest when she saw a red fox slipping between the pine trees; she also noticed that its belly was stained blue. She fired her rifle, not to kill the animal but to track it to its lair, which, as she had expected, turned out to have been dug into blue kimberlite.
So the first Siberian pipe, named Zarnitsa (thunderflash), was found; investigation showed that it covered (53 acres) but was poor in diamond content. In 1955 another geologist working not far from the fox's lair radioed the now celebrated message, 'Have Started Smoking Pipe of Peach, Tobacco Good'. The discovery of this pipe, named Mir (peace), marked a new era in the history of diamond production. It was followed by Udachnaya (Success) in the same year, by Sputnik in 1959, Aikhal (Glory) in 1960 and Internationalnaya in 1969. Since that time, Soviet geologists have ascertained that there are 450 specific kimberlite pipes on the Siberian platform, although not all of them are diamondiferous.
There is no more inhospitable part of the world where diamonds have been found. Yakutiya is the coldest province in Siberia: in the winter the terrain is frozen solid and the rivers are ice-free only for about three months of the year. The task of diamond recovery, therefore, presents great problems, nevertheless the Soviet authorities have succeeded in surmounting them so that in carat terms their current production is exceeded only by that of Australia and Zaire. The industrial diamonds are retained for domestic consumption while the gem diamonds have been exported to the West.