Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Support Grows for Establishing a Third Russian Capital in Siberia

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 20 – Ninety-five years ago this week, Vladimir Lenin shifted the Soviet capital from Petrograd to Moscow in order to protect his regime. In the last decade, Vladimir Putin has shifted certain central government functions back to Petersburg to reward his native city which has always defined itself as the country’s “northern capital.”

            Now, an ever-growing chorus of Russian commentators and even politicians is suggesting that many of the Russian Federation’s current difficulties could more effectively addressed if the country were to create a third capital east of the Urals or at the very least transfer some functions currently being performed in Moscow.

             Yesterday, the Rex news agency, which was created by Modest Kolerov, noted that “proposals about shifting the capital to Siberia or returning it to St. Petersburg, at least to disperse Moscow agencies beyond the ring road to several cities of Russia are constantly being made” in recent years (

            Oleg Deripaska, the oligarch, said in 2009 that the only way to struggle successfully with corruption is to shift the capital to Yekaterinburg or Novosibirsk. “Peter I was forced to flee Moscow because the expenses of the bureaucracy even in his era were burden on the development” of the country.

            Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the LDPR, said a year later that he supported the idea and that the capital city should be closer to the geographic center of Russia, perhaps in Samara, Perm or Yekaterinburg.  Then, the outspoken politician said, Moscow could be “cleansed” and become “a trade center like New York” while “Orenburg would become Washington.”

            Defense Minister Shoygu said in 2012 that he believes the capital should be “moved somewhere farther way, to Siberia. Eduard Limonov, a leading opposition figure, said in the same year that “the capital should be “to shifted to Southern Siberia,” tying that region to the rest of the country and “reducing the load on the European part of Russia.”

            Duma Deputy Viktor Zubaryev somewhat earlier called for putting it in Krasnoyarsk, a place he said was the capital of a kray that is Russia “in miniature.” That would benefit everyone because there “there are no nationalist attitudes, and the people who live in the region have instead a Siberian character.”

            But Vyachesla Glazychev, whom the news agency describes as “one of the most authoritative urbanists,” dismissed the idea out of hand, saying that the country should instead adopt a project to build “a greater Moscow” rather than engage in proposals to move the capital which he suggested were simply “a late April fools’ joke.”

            To determine whether such ideas are rational or not and to consider what are the “pluses and minuses” of any shift, the Rex news agency asked several other urbanists for their views.  Most were quite positive, but all were somewhat more cautious than the political figures just mentioned.

            Lev Vershinin, a historian, said that he backed the idea because he is convinced that the political capital and the economic capital should be separated, that “under current conditions, the further Versailles is from Paris, the better.

            Valentin Grinko, another historian, said the country would have to think about what such a shift would mean because Moscow and especially the Kremlin are “the archetypes” of Russian power now and any shift in the capital would have enormous consequences, for some people good ones and for others bad.

            And Grigory Trofimchuk, the first vice president of the Moscow Center for Modeling of Strategic Development, suggested that “the capital and brand” of Russia should remain where they are but the bureaucrats should be sent elsewhere.  That wouldn’t cost nearly as much as building a new capital from scratch.

            Summing up, Sergey Sibiryakov, who head the Rex international expert group, said that shifting the capital to Siberia would indeed solve a large number of problems. But it wouldn’t change the nature of power in its essence because the same people would be involved and they would take their way of doing business with them.

            Moreover, “the entire structure” of the country’s defense is based on the defense of Moscow.  If the capital were to be moved, the defense structures and Russian strategic thinking would have to change.  That would involve potentially prohibitive costs. But that is not the end of the story, he suggested.

            According to Sibiryakov, Moscow should remain the center of “executive power” but only that. No firms should be built or registered there. They should remain in the provinces. That would make the latter richer, reduce the city as a draw for gastarbeiters, and eliminate much of the envy non-Muscovites feel for their capital.

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