Saturday, November 3, 2012

Window on Eurasia: Only a New Role for Siberia Can Stir Russia from Its Current Lethargy, Region’s Politicians Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 3 – Siberia must shift from the colonial to a global paradigm of development if both that enormous region east of the Urals is to prosper and to stir the Russian Federation as a whole from its “lethargy” of the last 15 years, according to three leading politicians from there.

            In yesterday’s “Nezavisimaya gazeta,” Vladislav Inozemtsev, chairman of the Civic Force Party, Ilya Ponomaryev, a Just Russia deputy in the sixth Duma, and Vladimir Ryzhkov, a deputy of the first five Dumas, argue that a failure to end Siberia’s colonial status within Russia will be fateful for more than just itself (

            “For all four centuries of its contemporary history,” they write, “Siberia has developed as a classic colony.” In this, the three argue, it has “much in common with the history of the United States, another great European colony.”  But then they pointedly ask: why has the US and especially its West coast developed so much more rapidly than Siberia?

            They dismiss “the most traditional answer” – Siberia’s climate held it back – and argue instead, as Siberian regionalists have over the past 150 years, that “Siberia did not repeat the success of ‘the Wild West’ above all because its development remained harshly subordinate to the tasks of the development of the Russian and then the Soviet economy as a single whole.”

            Because of that different approach by the central governments, “California in our day has a regional GDP that exceeds the GDP of the entire Russian Federation,” while “Siberia has one that is 1.5 times smaller than that of Belgium.”  That situation, they argue, “not only can but very quickly must change.”

            Some have suggested that “the colonial character of the exploitation” of Siberia has been destroyed, but that is not the case, the three says. Instead, the development of the region’s natural resources and the wealth that comes from it has taken place according to “the principles of a mobilization type of development” and remains in the hands of Moscow.    

            That was exacerbated in Soviet times, they suggest, because Moscow had tense relations with the three most “natural” trading partners of Siberia in the East – China, South Korea and Japan. That began to change with perestroika, “but it could not even partially compensate the consequences of the crisis which had begun” in Soviet times.

            That left post-Soviet Siberia a raw materials-supplying colony. Moreover, “the process of de-industrialization led as a result to the strengthening of [this] raw materials paradigm of the development of Siberia.”  As a result, its people began to leave, and “those who remained concentrated themselves in major cities.”

            The “dominating trend” in the first decade of the 1st century “became the strengthening of the state, but even this did not give Siberia any serious competitive advantages.” Most investments went to European Russia.  But the “main problem for Siberia” was that “the budget vertical” set up by Vladimir Putin led to “an unprecedented centralization of financial resources.”

            Over the last 15 years, “the share of the budgets of Siberian regions in the budgetary system of Russia has contracted almost by a factor of two.”  What will come , the three Siberian politicians are, quite clearly depends on developments in three areas: economic, social and geo-political.

            First, economics.  “It is time for the center to share with the regions,” rather than have all the profits go to Moscow and abroad.  If that happens, then there will be no reason that Siberia cannot grow and even more important no reason that the Russian Federation as a whole will shift from a raw materials supplier to the world to a diverse and modernized economy.

            Second, social policy.  It isn’t Siberia’s climate but “the lack of a well-thought-out social policy” that precludes its development.  Siberia can become successful “only by entering on the path of industrialization and new scientific-technological development – and here China turns ut to be our competitor.”
            Therefore, and this is the third, geopolitical factor, “the basic allies of Russia for the conquest and development of Siberia must become South Korea, Japan and the United States.” Siberia can obtain the resources it needs if it retains more of the wealth its raw materials generate, but “the source of technology for conducting industrialization and creating new innovative centers can be foreign investors from Korea, Japan and the United States.

            “Siberia must position itself,” they continue, as ‘Europe in Asia,’ as a bridge which unites not Russia and China but Europe and America.” That is how the first Russian explorers of the region viewed it, and that is how Siberians and Russians should view this enormous region once again.

            Only by such a rethinking of Siberia’s role, by considering it not a colony as now but as a geopolitical bridge will allow “all of Russia to awake from the lethargic sleep of the last 15 years.”  Only in Siberia can “a new [non-ethnic] Russian identity be formed.  An identity adequate to the world and to the contemporary challenges.”

            And they conclude that this identity at its base will be “European and its direction global and cosmopolitan. Unless it changes today, unless it demands from the rest of the country more rights, Siberia will lose the possibility of changing Russia” and “will not be able to overcome [Russia’s] colonial relationship to the most worthy of its constituent parts.”

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