Staunton, October 7 – Sergey Shoygu, the Russian defense minister who was born to a Tuvan father and a Russian mother and who considers himself to this day a Siberian, says that the only way to attract people to Russia east of the Urals is to establish “something like” a new Russian capital in the region.
In an interview with Nezivestnaya Sibir, Shoygu says that “we need to establish her, east of the Urals, a major financial-industrial center, a kind of capital, which will give a powerful impulse to the development of Siberian and Far Eastern lands” (hiddensiberia.ru/read/articles/portret-na-fone-tajgi/).
That prompts the question, Natalya Yeltsova of the URA news agency says, as to why the Russian defense minister is promoting this notion just now, given that Moscow has always been opposed to the creation of an alternative power center to itself and the decentralization that would follow (ura.news/articles/1036276412).
In his interview, Shoygu acknowledges that his idea is “not new” and points both to the experiences of the late tsarist period and the Soviet one in which 2.7 million people moved east of the Urals in the first case and five million in the second, although many of these in each case moved back when they could.
Experts are now speculating as to why Shoygu made this proposal and why he did so now. Andrey Ostrovsky, the Far Eastern editor of Novaya gazeta, says that talk about developing the region is popular now and the defense ministry may simply want to cash in on that, a view shared by Siberian activist Yevgeny Mitrofanov.
But regional journalist Aleksey Mazur says that the real reason may lie elsewhere. Shoygu is “a patriot,” he says, and thus fears as do many others that “30 years from now, [Russia] may be facing a Siberia ‘populated by Chinese’” rather than by Russians.
Experts divide as to which city could be the base of such “a capital.” Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Vladivostok, Irkutsk and Khabarovsk all have their advocates, the URA journalist says; but all of these cities have drawbacks either because of their location at the edge of the region or because of shortcomings in their development.
Mazur for his part points to a fundamental problem. “Siberia,” he insists, “is too big for a single center,” although he personally favors Novosibirsk as the center if one has to be chosen at all. Reaction in Siberia is divided. Some think Shoygu’s idea is a good one; but others dismiss it as either absurd or impossible.
But the conclusion of Natalya Zubarevich, a regional specialist at Moscow’s Independent Institute for Social Policy, observes that Shoygu is hardly “a great specialist in economics.” That makes his proposal “interesting” because while it is clear that “he can create a powerful military district, creating a powerful capital is not within his domain.”
Meanwhile, talk of moving capitals is not restricted to Shoygu and Moscow. The acting governor of Primorsky kray, Oleg Kozhemyako, says that his region and its major city Vladivostok should be “the capital of the Far East. Not Khabarovsk but Vladivostok. That would give us status, money and attention,” adding that “we are hospitable people and we welcome everyone” (