Thursday, November 12, 2020

Russia’s Drive to Develop Far North Disrupting Lives of Nations who Live There, Economist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 10 – Moscow’s push to develop the far northern regions of the country, a drive that its plans call for delivering more than 80 percent of the natural gas and 17 percent of the oil by 2035, have brought some benefits to the indigenous peoples there but have disrupted their lives in important ways, Ivan Potravny says.

            The senior economist at Moscow’s Russian Economics University, says that for these groups as a whole, positive developments outweigh the negative with life expectancies rising, outflow of population falling and unemployment declining (

            But such figures are deceptive, and “in reality, the situation in various regions even within a single subject of the Federation is quite different and far from everywhere are things in good shape.” In Sakha, for example, the northern regions of the republic have suffered heavily over the last 30 years even though the republic as a whole has done relatively well, Potravny says.

            Population in northern Sakha has fallen more than half, and unemployment there remains more than twice the all-Russian figure. In addition, Russian companies engaged in the exploitation of raw materials have disrupted the lives and livelihood of the indigenous peoples, forcing many to leave their homes from time immemorial.

            Across the Arctic regions of Russia, incomes are very low, a quarter of all housing is decaying and needs to be renovated or replaced. Almost half of all medical facilities are understaffed and underequipped and housed in decaying buildings. Reliable Internet connectivity is rare. And for most of the area, there is no year-round transportation system.

            Several new programs are being considered to overcome these problems. One would have Russian firms working in the area purchase food produced by the indigenous peoples or promote the export of meat and milk production. Another would use floating nuclear power plants to replace aging and leaking thermal plants.

            At present, however, there is only one such floating power plant, and the thermal plants typically use the most environmentally harmful heavy oil that when it leaks destroys the surrounding territory. Vladimir Putin has called for eliminating that kind of fuel in the region, but his call has not yet been realized.

            According to Potravny, any solution to the problems of the far north will require two things: the diversification of economic activity there away from raw materials extraction by Russian firms and traditional reindeer herding, and a completely different set of relationships between Moscow, the regions, local governments and business.

            The latter is especially important because if the north is to be developed successfully, the federal government and the regional authorities “on a parity basis must subsidize the construction of energy generating plants as well as communications and transportation infrastructure.

            Otherwise, the economist suggests, Moscow’s hopes for the north in 2035 are unlikely to be realized – and the indigenous peoples of the region will suffer as well, with many of them likely passing out of existence entirely.

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