Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Moscow’s Approach to Russian Far East Driving That Region Away, Commentators Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 5 – Instead of recognizing that the Russian Far East is a key region of the country, Moscow elites are pursuing policies there designed to enrich themselves rather than to promote the region’s development and thus intentionally or not are driving this enormous and enormously rich territory ever further away from the rest of Russia.

            In an article posted on the portal today, Viktor Martynok reaches that conclusion by drawing an analogy many in the rest of Russia may find disturbing.  “If some part of an organism suddently ceases to receive blood and loses its connection with the rest of the organsm, it inevitably and quickly dies and risks inflecting the entire organism if it is not amputated.”

            A similar pattern can occur in politics, he continues. “’Forgotten’ region also die, and ‘the infection’ of their collapse is capable of affecting the entire country.” In general, this process is slower and the immunity of the whole is “better,” assuming there is the political will do oppose it (

            But that is exactly what appears to be lacking in Moscow with regard to “the gangrene” that is spreading through the Russian Far East.  The central authorities are doing something or at least give the appearance of doing something, Martynok says, but this “’something’” at least so far is clearly “insufficient.”

            Yuri Krupnov, a commentator at the Moscow Institute of Demography, Migration, and Regional Development, says that the main problem the center has with regard to the Russian Far East is that it lacks an understanding of the nature of that region and of its importance for the Russian Federation as a whole.

            “By all objective measures, the Far East is for Russia geopolitical region number one,” but Moscow is treating it “as some kind of distant borderland.”  That “contradiction,” he suggests, is the “source of the problem” rather than as usually is discussed the organization or effectiveness of this or that administrative arrangement.

            Indicative of this lack of understanding, the demographer says, is the widespread notion in Moscow that foreign investment can solve that region’s problems, without any appreciation of the fact that such investment, especially in the absence of concerted Russian investment, will lead to the creeping departure of the region from under Moscow’s authority.

            Mikhail Delyagin, director general of the Moscow Institute of the Problems of Globalization, agrees.  He told that China is spreading its influence over the Russian Far East because Moscow is not doing what is needed to prevent that from happening and that in time that will cost the Russian Federation dearly.

            To counter this Chinese expansion, Delyagin says, the Russian Far East “requires a modernization of infrastructure, the radical reduction in the cost of travel for people and goods so as to re-unify the Far East with the rest of the territory of Russia.”  Tragically, however, no one in the Moscow elite is even talking about this.

            In the Far East today, unlike only five or six years ago, he continues, there are ever more Russians who “sincerely consider that it is better to live in China and that the Chinese relate to Russians significantly better than [the Russian government does] to Russians.”  And this attitude is already having real consequences.

            There is already “an exodus of citizens who have migrated to China, a trend on the level of approximately 100,000 people. They have taken refuge not in great Britain or in Ukraine but in China where everything is generally completely alien. [And they have done so] because they suddenly felt that there they are respected as Russians more than they are in the motherland.”

            Their departure and the attitudes behind it reflect the fact, Delyagin says, that Moscow elites view the Far East and in general all of Russia east of the Urals not as an important region for the country but rather as an effective location for the transfer of budgetary funds into their own pockets, even if this costs Russia influence.

            And because these Moscow elites view that region in this way and because people in the region see that those at the center do, ever more people in Russia’s Far East are re-orienting themselves away from the Russian center to other countries where they may finally get the respect and support Moscow routinely denies them.

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