Staunton, September 4 – Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska says that the decline of Europe and the rise of Asia means that Russia must “open a window to Asia” analogous to what Peter the Great did by “opening a window to Europe” 300 years ago and shift the capital of the Russian state to a new city further east.
Because of that tradition – for a discussion of it, see mk.ru/moscow/2020/09/05/stolicu-rossii-predlagayut-perenesti-kuda-mogla-by-pereekhat-moskva.html -- and because the return of the capital to Moscow occurred only a century ago, Russians often talk about establishing a new capital to end the hyper-centralization of the state or improve ties to neighboring countries.
But unlike many earlier suggestions of this kind, Deripaska’s has attracted more than usual support and, what is likely far more important, little opposition either from Muscovites or the Kremlin. Instead, the reaction even from Putin’s press secretary has been completely polite (regnum.ru/news/polit/3054458.html).
That doesn’t mean that Russia is about to move its capital, but it does mean that there is likely to be more discussion of why it might or even should. Deripaska himself pointed to three reasons: Asia is becoming more important, Russia is refocusing on Asia, and the country needs to find ways to promote population growth beyond the ring road.
Building an entirely new capital from scratch, which is pretty much what Peter the Great did, is not easy, he continued. But it does offer the chance to have a fully modern city rather than one still mired in the past and sends a clear signal to the entire country and the world that Russia is changing course.
Some commentators are already suggesting that the optimal place for such a capital would be in the Altay Kray, near the borders with China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia. The mountains there would not be an obstacle, they argue, because today air connections not roads and rails are the essential links with the rest of the country and world.
Indeed, one of them suggests that “the development of aviation” is “comparable with the development of the fleet” under Peter the Great.
Shifting the capital away from Moscow is nonetheless highly unlikely anytime soon. What is more possible is adding another city to “’the table of ranks’” of cities in that country. At present, Moscow is number one, St. Petersburg, “the northern capital,” is number two; and Kazan since 2009 has had the right to call itself “the third capital.”
What Deripaska’s remarks are likely to trigger is a competition among Russian cities in Siberia and the Far East to displace Kazan or to become the fourth capital, a competition that could very well resemble and be used in the same way by the Kremlin as the fight last year over renaming airports (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/putins-renaming-airports-attracts.html).